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Broken marriages, illegitimate children, friendships ruined… these are some of the better-case outcomes of poor decision-making due to intense sexual arousal. More serious consequences can involve loss of careers or jail time. Why do human beings succumb to this peculiar emotional state of lust, one that clouds our good judgment? Scientists of sexuality are just now beginning to understand how this ancient drive impacts our short and long-term decision-making in predictable ways. In men, for instance, a heightened state of desire lowers moral standards and makes it difficult to empathise. Although lust facilitated biologically adaptive decisions in the evolutionary past, today it renders us vulnerable to committing socially proscribed sexual offences. In this talk, I discuss relevant research findings and theoretical accounts that underscore both the clinical and practical importance of understanding lust as a form of cognitive distortion.
Jesse Bering is an award-winning science writer specializing in evolutionary psychology and human behavior. Bering’s 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. All three books have been translated into many different languages.
An experimental psychologist by training, Bering’s early research was in the cognitive science of religion, and he has published extensively in that field. Presently, he is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago, New Zealand.