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Jesse Bering Image

Head of Department

Tel +64 3 471 6147

Jesse Bering is a research psychologist and Head of the Department of Science Communication. His primary research area is the cognitive science of religion, with his work centered on the cognitive underpinnings of afterlife beliefs, as well as how we ascribe purpose to inherently meaningless life events as a consequence of our species' evolved psychology, most notably as an artifact of our social cognition. More recently, using controlled studies he has begun to explore people's ability to cognitively reconcile religious and scientific beliefs when they are faced directly with experiences or information that challenge their worldviews.

Bering is also an essayist and science writer specializing in evolution and human behavior. In addition to writing extensively for Scientific American and Slate, his essays and opinion pieces have appeared in Playboy, The New York Times, The Guardian, Discover, Aeon, and others.

Bering's first book, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life (W. W. Norton, 2011), was included in the American Library Association's Top 25 Books of the Year and voted one of the “11 Best Psychology Books of 2011” by The Atlantic.

This was followed by a collection of his Webby-award nominated essays, Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux/Scientific American Press, 2012), and Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us (2013, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux/Scientific American Press), a taboo-breaking work that received widespread critical acclaim and was named as a New York Times Editor's Choice.

His most recent book was Suicidal (University of Chicago Press, 2018, published in the UK as A Very Human Ending, Doubleday).

Bering's books have been translated into many different languages and reviewed in The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, Evening Standard, The Boston Globe, Sunday Times, The Atlantic, The Catholic Herald, and similar outlets.

As a practicing science communicator, he has also been featured in numerous documentaries, TV shows, podcasts, and radio programs, including Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, Conan, Chelsea Lately, Q&A (Australia), NPR's All Things Considered, and the BBC.

To learn more, visit

Current teaching

  • SCOM 404 Science Communication Internship
  • SCOM 434 Science Communication Internship (Distance)
  • APPS 597 Supervised Independent Study

Research interests

  • Cognitive science and religion
  • Human sexuality
  • Suicidology
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Social psychology and science communication

Potential postgraduate projects

  • Communicating controversial scientific topics in conflict with religious beliefs
  • Experimental (lab-based) approaches to social psychology and science communication
  • Cognitive biases and science communication

Current PhD students

  • Evan Balkcom – The maintenance of unbelief in light of experiences that challenge it
  • Alex Gilbert – Risk communication of sports-related concussion
  • Emma Harcourt – The use of scientific language by anti-abortion groups
  • Brett Waggoner – Cognitive factors underlying the motivation for a personal legacy


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