About

I am a behavioral scientist, teacher, and writer. I am a contributing editor for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, for which I write the “Behavior & Belief” column, both online and in print. I have written personal and professional essays in a variety of places, including the ObserverMedium, The AtlanticThe Good Men ProjectTablet, and Time.

The first edition of my book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition won the William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association and was translated into Japanese, German, and Romanian. An updated edition was published in 2014. My book Going Broke: Why Americans (Still) Can’t Hold On To Their Money is an analysis of the current epidemic of personal debt. The first edition was translated into Chinese, and the second edition was released in September of 2018 in both paperback and audiobook formats. In 2020, my book Superstition was published in the Oxford University Press Very Short Introduction series. The Spanish translation, Breve historian de la superstición, was published by Alianza editorial on January 13 (!), 2022. My latest book, The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to be Rational (Oxford, 2022), is out now in the US in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook. It will be published in the UK in August 2022.

As an expert on superstition and irrational behavior, I have been quoted in many news outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and have appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, CNN International, the PBS NewsHour, and NPR’s Science Friday. See the In the Media page for recent quotes and appearances.

I hold a PhD in psychology and BA and MA degrees in English Literature and am a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. The majority of my teaching career was spent at Providence College, the University of Rhode Island, and Connecticut College. My academic interests are in decision-making, behavioral economics, philosophy, behavior analysis, and belief in the paranormal.

CV

Google Scholar Citations

Researchgate profile


Recent Posts

Train Wrecks, Pods, and Future Talks

As John Prine would say, Summer’s end is around the bend just flying / The swimming suits are on the line just drying.


My latest article for Skeptical Inquirer is a review of the status of subliminal messages and psychological priming research in general. This has been a particularly controversial and fraught area, and it was useful to see where things stand at the moment. (Spoiler alert!) I conclude that there is some hope for science to straighten things out before long.


Recently I spent a very pleasant hour on the “Why Do We Do That?” podcast talking to psychologist Ryan Moyer about my book The Uses of Delusion. Among other things, I learned that my first book, Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, was an influence on Ryan’s dissertation research. This is a relatively new podcast, but so far it seems terrific. You can listen to the episode here.


For anyone who might be in the Philadelphia area, I will be giving what will probably be my last public presentation on The Uses of Delusion for PhACT, the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking, on September 17th. I have given a few talks for PhACT before, but they were all over Zoom. So it will be a great pleasure to finally meet these people in person. The talk is free and open to the public, and you can find the details here.


Finally, my second book of 2022 launches on October 17th. Stonington’s Steamboat Hotel is a history of the building I live in, now locally known as The Heartbreak Hotel. As I discovered somewhat by accident during the dark days of the pandemic, the Steamboat Hotel has a very colorful history, and almost before I knew it, I was writing a manuscript which The History Press has now agreed to publish. I am giving all my proceeds for the book to the Stonington Historical Society, without whom I could not have written the book.

The official launch of the book will be at the LaGrua Center in Stonington, CT at 6:00 pm on October 19th. On that occasion, I will give a talk entitled “Liquor & Temperance in the Borough,” which is the topic of one of the chapters. Traditionally, hotels have been a popular location for drinking, and they often came into conflict with advocates of temperance and prohibition. In this regard, the Steamboat Hotel was no exception. Copies of the book will be on sale at the event, and there is a plan for some beverages to complement the talk. I am really looking forward to this gathering and hope anyone in the area will consider attending.


That’s it for now.

SV

  1. The Character of Science Podcast & Stonington Library Talk Video Leave a reply
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  3. Book Launch & Room Rater Leave a reply
  4. Friday the 13th, the Shermer Show, & #1 Leave a reply
  5. Zoom Book Talk & Friday May 13th Event Leave a reply
  6. Book Launch & the Autism Spectrum Leave a reply
  7. Steamboat Hotel Talk & Spanish Reviews Leave a reply
  8. Mass Psychogenic Illness & The Steamboat Hotel Leave a reply
  9. Jumping to Conclusions & Sports Curses Leave a reply