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Associate Professor Jesse Bering

JesseBering2

Director

Email jesse.bering@otago.ac.nz
Tel 64 3 471 6147

Jesse Bering is a research psychologist and Director of the Centre for Science Communication. An award-winning science writer specializing in human behaviour, his first book, The Belief Instinct (2011), was included on the American Library Association’s Top 25 Books of the Year. This was followed by a collection of his previously published essays, Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? (2012), and Perv (2013), a taboo-breaking work that received widespread critical acclaim and was named as a New York Times Editor’s Choice. His most recent book, Suicidal, will be released in late 2018 (published in the UK as A Very Human Ending). All of his books have been translated into many different languages.

An experimental psychologist by training, Bering’s primary research area is the cognitive science of religion and he has published extensively in that field. His work has centred on the cognitive underpinnings of afterlife beliefs, as well as how we ascribe meaning and purpose to life events as a consequence of our species’ evolved psychology, most notably as an artifact of our theory of mind. 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.

As a practicing science communicator, Bering and his work have been featured in numerous documentaries, TV shows, and radio programs, including Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, Conan, Chelsea Lately, Q&A (Australia), NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and the BBC. In addition to writing extensively for Scientific American and Slate magazines, his essays and opinion pieces have also appeared in Playboy, The New York Times, The Guardian, Discover, Vice, and others. To learn more, visit www.jessebering.com


Current Teaching


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 ideologies  
  • Development of efficacious science communication practices in prisons
  • 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 
  • Susan Hamel - The creation and use of e-learning material in science communication
  • Manon Knapen - How do homeopathy users perceive homeopathy?
  • Daniel Silva-Luna - Awe in science communication 

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Publications

Bering, J. (2019). Why do we see supernatural signs in natural events? In D. J. Slone & W. W. McCorkle, Jr (Eds.), The cognitive science of religion: A methodological introduction to key empirical studies. (pp. 5-14). London, UK: Bloomsbury.

Balkcom, E. R., Alogna, V. K., Curtin, E. R., Halberstadt, J. B., & Bering, J. M. (2019). Aversion to organs donated by suicide victims: The role of psychological essentialism. Cognition, 192, 104037. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104037

Bering, J. (2018). A very human ending: How suicide haunts our species. London, UK: Doubleday, 288p.

Bering, J. (2018). Suicidal: Why we kill ourselves. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 272p.

White, C., Kinsella, M., & Bering, J. (2018). How to know you've survived death: A cognitive account of the popularity of contemporary post-mortem survival narratives. Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, 30(3), 279-299. doi: 10.1163/15700682-12341431

Authored Book - Research

Bering, J. (2018). A very human ending: How suicide haunts our species. London, UK: Doubleday, 288p.

Bering, J. (2018). Suicidal: Why we kill ourselves. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 272p.

Bering, J. (2013). Perv: The sexual deviant in all of us. New York, NY: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 265p.

Bering, J. (2012). Why is the penis shaped like that? And other reflections on being human. New York, NY: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 301p.

Bering, J. (2011). The belief instinct: The psychology of souls, destiny and the meaning of life. New York: W. W. Norton, 272p.

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Authored Book - Other

Bering, J. (2015). Perversões: Os comportamentos sexuais desviantes [Translation of Perv: The sexual deviant in all of us]. Lison, Spain: Temas e Debates, 320p.

Bering, J. (2014). Penisin şekli neden öyle? Ve anatomi, parafili, inanç ve Evrim üzerine düşünceler [Translation of Why is the penis shaped like that? And other reflections on being human]. Ankara, Turkey: Big Bang, 366p.

Bering, J. (2014). Perv: Viaggio nellenostre perversioni [Translation of Perv: The sexual deviant in all of us]. Torina, Italy: UTET, 365p.

Bering, J. (2014). Pervers: Seksuele afwijkingen in ieder van ons [Translation of Perv: The sexual deviant in all of us]. Torina, Italy: De Bezige Bij, 298p.

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Chapter in Book - Research

Bering, J. (2019). Why do we see supernatural signs in natural events? In D. J. Slone & W. W. McCorkle, Jr (Eds.), The cognitive science of religion: A methodological introduction to key empirical studies. (pp. 5-14). London, UK: Bloomsbury.

Johnson, D., & Bering, J. (2011). Hand of God, mind of man: Punishment and cognition in the evolution of cooperation. In J. Schloss & M. Murray (Eds.), The believing primate: Scientific, philosophical, and theological reflections on the origin of religion. Oxford Scholarship Online. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199557028.003.0002

Hahn-Holbrook, J., Holbrook, C., & Bering, J. (2011). Snakes, spiders, strangers: How the evolved fear of strangers may misdirect efforts to protect children from harm. In J. M. Lampinen & K. Sexton-Radek (Eds.), Protecting children from violence: Evidence-based interventions. (pp. 263-290). New York, NY: Psychology Press. doi: 10.4324/9780203852927

Ingram, G. P. D., Piazza, J. R., & Bering, J. M. (2009). The adaptive problem of absent third-party punishment. In H. Høgh-Olesen, J. Tønnesvang & P. Bertelsen (Eds.), Human characteristics: Evolutionary perspectives on human mind and kind. (pp. 205-229). Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars.

Bering, J. M., & Bjorklund, D. F. (2007). The serpent’s gift: Evolutionary psychology and consciousness. In P. D. Zelazo, M. Moscovitch & E. Thompson (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511816789.023

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Journal - Research Article

Balkcom, E. R., Alogna, V. K., Curtin, E. R., Halberstadt, J. B., & Bering, J. M. (2019). Aversion to organs donated by suicide victims: The role of psychological essentialism. Cognition, 192, 104037. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104037

White, C., Kinsella, M., & Bering, J. (2018). How to know you've survived death: A cognitive account of the popularity of contemporary post-mortem survival narratives. Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, 30(3), 279-299. doi: 10.1163/15700682-12341431

Bering, J. M., Curtin, E. R., & Jong, J. (2017). Knowledge of deaths in hotel rooms diminishes perceived value and elicits guest aversion. OMEGA. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0030222817709694

Shackelford, T. K., Liddle, J. R., Bering, J., & Shalkoski, G. (2014). Unbidden confession as an evolved pre-emptive strategy against punishment: A preliminary investigation with prisoners. Personality & Individual Differences, 61-62, 86-90. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.010

Heywood, B. T., & Bering, J. M. (2014). “Meant to be”: How religious beliefs and cultural religiosity affect the implicit bias to think teleologically. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 4(3), 183-201. doi: 10.1080/2153599X.2013.782888

Piazza, J., Bering, J. M., & Ingram, G. (2011). "Princess Alice is watching you": Children's belief in an invisible person inhibits cheating. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 109(3), 311-320. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2011.02.003

Piazza, J., & Bering, J. M. (2010). The coevolution of secrecy and stigmatization: Evidence from the content of distressing secrets. Human Nature, 21(3), 290-308. doi: 10.1007/s12110-010-9090-4

Bering, J. (2010). Atheism is only skin deep: Geertz and Markússon rely mistakenly on sociodemographic data as meaningful indicators of underlying cognition. Religion, 40(3), 166-168. doi: 10.1016/j.religion.2009.11.001

Bering, J. (2010). The nonexistent purpose of people: Have our minds evolved to see human beings as types of artefacts? Psychologist, 23(4), 290-293.

Ingram, G. P. D., & Bering, J. M. (2010). Children's tattling: The reporting of everyday norm violations in preschool settings. Child Development, 81(3), 945-957. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01444.x

Piazza, J., & Bering, J. M. (2009). Evolutionary cyber-psychology: Applying an evolutionary framework to Internet behavior. Computers in Human Behavior, 25(6), 1258-1269. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2009.07.002

Piazza, J., & Bering, J. M. (2008). Concerns about reputation via gossip promote generous allocations in an economic game. Evolution & Human Behavior, 29(3), 172-178. doi: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2007.12.002

Piazza, J., & Bering, J. M. (2008). Why hell is other people: Distinctively human psychological suffering. Review of General Psychology, 12(1), 1-8. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.12.1.1

Bering, J. M. (2006). The cognitive science of souls: Clarifications and extensions of the evolutionary model. Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 29(5), 486-498. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X06499106

Bering, J. M., & Parker, B. D. (2006). Children's attributions of intentions to an invisible agent. Developmental Psychology, 42(2), 253-262. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.42.2.253

Bering, J. M., & McLeod, K. (2005). Reasoning about dead agents reveals possible adaptive trends. Human Nature, 16(4), 360-381. doi: 10.1007/s12110-005-1015-2

Bering, J. M., & Johnson, D. D. P. (2005). 'O Lord... You perceive my thoughts from afar': Recursiveness and the evolution of supernatural agency. Journal of Cognition & Culture, 5(1-2), 118-142. doi: 10.1163/1568537054068679

Bering, J. M., Blasi, C. H., & Bjorklund, D. F. (2005). The development of 'afterlife' beliefs in religiously and secularly schooled children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 23(4), 587-607. doi: 10.1348/026151005X36498

Bering, J. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (2005). Evolutionary psychology and false confession. American Psychologist, 60(9), 1037-1038. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.9.1037

Bering, J. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (2004). The causal role of consciousness: A conceptual addendum to human evolutionary psychology. Review of General Psychology, 8(4), 227-248. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.8.4.227

Bering, J. M. (2004). Consciousness was a "trouble-maker": On the general maladaptiveness of unsupported mental representation. Journal of Mind & Behavior, 25(1), 33-55.

Bering, J. M., & Bjorklund, D. F. (2004). The natural emergence of reasoning about the afterlife as a developmental regularity. Developmental Psychology, 40(2), 217-233. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.40.2.217

Bjorklund, D. F., & Bering, J. M. (2003). A note on the development of deferred imitation in enculturated juvenile chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Developmental Review, 23(3), 389-412. doi: 10.1016/S0273-2297(03)00021-2

Bering, J. M. (2003). Religious concepts are probably epiphenomena: A reply to Pyysiäinen, Boyer, and Barrett. Journal of Cognition & Culture, 3(3), 244-254. doi: 10.1163/156853703322336670

Povinelli, D. J., & Bering, J. M. (2002). The mentality of apes revisited. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11(4), 115-119. doi: 10.1111/1467-8721.00181

Bering, J. M. (2002). Intuitive conceptions of dead agents' minds: The natural foundations of afterlife beliefs as phenomenological boundary. Journal of Cognition & Culture, 2(4), 263-308. doi: 10.1163/15685370260441008

Bjorklund, D. F., & Bering, J. M. (2002). The evolved child: Applying evolutionary developmental psychology to modern schooling. Learning & Individual Differences, 12(4), 347-373. doi: 10.1016/S1041-6080(02)00047-X

Bering, J. M. (2002). The Existential Theory of Mind. Review of General Psychology, 6(1), 3-24. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.6.1.3

Bjorklund, D. F., Yunger, J. L., Bering, J. M., & Ragan, P. (2002). The generalization of deferred imitation in enculturated chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Animal Cognition, 5(1), 49-58. doi: 10.1007/s10071-001-0124-5

Bering, J. M. (2001). God is not in the mirror. Journal of Cognition & Culture, 1(2), 207-211. doi: 10.1163/156853701316931425

Bering, J. M. (2001). Theistic percepts in other species: Can chimpanzees represent the minds of non-natural agents? Journal of Cognition & Culture, 1(2), 107-137. doi: 10.1163/156853701316931371

Povinelli, D. J., Bering, J. M., & Giambrone, S. (2000). Toward a science of other minds: Escaping the argument by analogy. Cognitive Science, 24(3), 509-541. doi: 10.1207/s15516709cog2403_7

Bjorklund, D. F., Bering, J. M., & Ragan, P. (2000). A two-year longitudinal study of deferred imitation of object manipulation in a juvenile chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus). Developmental Psychobiology, 37(4), 229-237. doi: 10.1002/1098-2302(2000)37:4<229::AID-DEV3>3.0.CO;2-K

Bering, J. M., Bjorklund, D. F., & Ragan, P. (2000). Deferred imitation of object-related actions in human-reared juvenile chimpanzees and orangutans. Developmental Psychobiology, 36(3), 218-232. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1098-2302(200004)36:3<218::AID-DEV5>3.0.CO;2-K

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Journal - Research Other

Bering, J. M. (2001). 'Ratcheting' up the scalae naturae? [Review of the book The cultural origins of human cognition]. Journal of Cognition & Culture, 1(4), 353-358. doi: 10.1163/156853701753678332

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Journal - Professional & Other Non-Research Articles

Bering, J. (2015). [Review of the book Fuckology: Critical essays on John Money's diagnostic concepts]. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 41(6), 693-694. doi: 10.1080/0092623x.2015.1064636

More publications...