The Terrorist Trance

One of the few truisms that deserves to repeated over and over is that hysteria can be as deceptive as it is thrilling.

Addiction and Rescue

In video clip on Facebook a presidential campaigner promises prospective voters in a New Hampshire tavern that he favors treatment for addiction. Within a day or two, more than two million people called attention to the clip. What's the magic?

Rampage as a Team Instinct

Humans have evolved powerful social bonding that shows up in group rivalry and team spirit. In civilization, where strangers can live together, the lethal competition of warfare is safely symbolized in team sports such as football. In rampage killing, as in the Roseburg Oregon massacre, that symbolic quality breaks down.

Is Your Learning Style Paranoid?

We learn—and grow—by engaging with anomalies: new things that don't fit our familiar categories. It's a gut process, not just a philosophical choice. Anxiety can make us paranoid about what's new and strange. Knowing that can spur fascination and help us to adapt.

The Self as Schtick:

A schtick is a gimmick that wraps something up neatly. It’s the clichéd fistfight or kiss that clinches a pop story. It’s helps us make sense of the oceans of information we surf. But we’re ambivalent about it. It can delight us with a feeling of mastery, but it can also falsify the world and the self.

Superman Needs You

A powerful leader in politics, business, in love has “magnetism.” But leaders depend on followers, who follow because it’s rewarding. Consider the attention commanded by Donald Trump or even Adolf Hitler. Lives depend on it. What’s the magnetic secret?

The Huntress Hunts You

The latest celebrity trophy hunter is a femme fatale who sees killing as therapy. Her motives help us understand the dilemma of everyone who’s ever felt like a Nobody in a Dead End job, in need of some life-saving heroic purpose.

Hunting Bwana the Dentist

What would motivate a dentist to spend $55,000 to kill an elderly tourist lion? The answer takes us on a psychological safari looking at recent themes in American life that incite and reward fantasies of the mighty hunter.

Beautifying Your Armpits

Would dyeing your armpit hair fabulous circus colors make you more beautiful, more expressive, more liberated? The armpit artists say they're saving women from "harmful standards." But all body decoration needs to balance technique and real-life experience. Do we want intimacy or applause?

Play-Acting for Real

In photos, Dylann Roof, who murdered 9 black churchgoers, reveals a child captured by heroic fantasies, and unexpectedly illuminates the fantasies in the air around him. We need to learn to recognize the cues.

Fetishism and the Thirst for More Life

Fetishism feels that certain people and things have power to protect us. Big money and big shots exert an uncanny fascination, so do lovers and religious symbols. Whether you call it fetishism, transference, or fandom, it’s magic and shapes us. The psychology of abandon investigates fetishism because our idols seem larger than life and beyond everyday constraints.

Don't Be Fooled by Arresting Logic

Protests against police killings have triggered a propaganda backlash. Today's essay demonstrates how to use the psychology of abandon to see through the phony crisis mentality so often used to manipulate us.

Self-Esteem and Your Inner Biker

The news pumps up the biker “shootout” in Waco. The psychology of abandon cuts through the hype and examines how biker gangs mirror the struggle for self-esteem that shapes all of us—even you and me. Gun your engines.

Tattoos and Identity

A website urges you to tattoo a song lyric on "your skin and soul." What's going on?

The Bear Hug and the Boogie Man

Every day world leaders shake hands or threaten somebody. The news can rattle you even though the diplomatic howdy-do is as artificial as a puppet show. Formality in business, sports, and even marriages tries to prevent tantrums and meltdowns. Once in awhile you may spot body language that could reveal something about inner life.

Murder in a Locked Room:

In a paradox worthy of Greek tragedy, the fortified cockpit door to Germanwings Flight 9525 invited the mass murder it was meant to prevent. Can we make sense of a co-pilot’s rampage?

When Love Kills

In 1850s Rome, cloistered nuns got entangled in fraud, murder, sexual hijinks, and what the investigators “false holiness.” The Inquisition kept the scandal buried until 1998. Now the story’s out and it has much to tell us about love, hero-worship, crime, and neoteny.

Deadly Rescue

The “American Sniper” phenomenon is breaking box office records. It's not just a war movie. The publicity machine is cranking, but something doesn’t feel right. What does it mean to “snipe” anyway? And why should a sniper-hero fascinate us? And for that matter, why do we have so much trouble thinking about it?

Killing the Cartoon

It’s useful to see terrorists not as freaks but as emergency versions of everybody’s effort to substantiate an identity and get real. The terrorists in Paris shared many characteristics of rampage killers in the US, but they also have much to tell us about the self under stress, including our own.

Killing Me Softly:

The turmoil over killing innocents isn’t just about cops and race. Have you noticed that the structure of power in America is changing and it's affecting you? From work to entertainment, stress is rising. You can't change what you don't see.

Guilty Games

Guilt is painful. It attacks your self-esteem and trust in the world. Even police, enforcers of the law, behave like children when found guilty. They feel sorry for themselves and blame the victim. Protests against police killing are necessary but may harden police denial. It takes a tragic sense of the limited, conflicted creatures we are to come to terms with guilt

The Child and the Monster

Under stress, with no time for reasoning, police trust to "instinct" and "training" that may be deceptive or even disastrous. To understand police killings, we need a psychology of abandon.

The Placebo Diet

The paleo diet holds that our bodies are out of sync with modern food, with overweight and many degenerative diseases as a consequence. Though it's scientifically dubious, some say the paleo diet really works. How can that be?

Ebola and the Vaccine Effect

Encountering threats, we’re often vaccinating ourselves. Bad news spurs us to imagine how we could avoid such a fate. Consciously or not, we’re testing the threat, discounting it, taking it apart, desensitizing ourselves. In the process, we’re building up defenses against it as antibodies do. In the wisdom of slang, we’re building up our “resistance.”

Who Can You Trust?

What should we make of a poll showing that trust among Americans is declining? It's a deceptive conflict, yet it involves every aspect of our lives.

Soft Porn in Makeup

The best-seller soft porn novel Fifty Shades of Grey disguises all sorts of conflicts that haunt us from childhood to five minutes ago

The Romance Plot

Romance is a shelf of stories. To make sense of the new ones you need to dust off the old ones and see what they were actually saying.

Average Terror

In hero-worship we attribute wishful powers to a leader or a lover in hopes that they can protect us. When heroes abuse you and hero-worship starts turning into self-hatred, it's time for a fresh look at the flip side: the terror of the average life.

If Words Were Money

An important new study sheds light on what's in your wallet. Yet the words we use to think about financial behavior are so tame you might miss the implications.

Your Cheatin' Heart

Research shows that cheaters in experiments unexpectedly feel not guilty, but "the cheater's high." Cheating is a lot more familiar than the experiments suggest. It can be more innocent and more tragic than you think.