Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior

Course No. 1626
Professor Mark Leary, Ph.D.
Duke University
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Course No. 1626
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Explore the latest theories and research from behavioral sciences to learn why humans act the way we do.
  • numbers Discover how some behaviors that are difficult to understand today make sense when considering problems our ancestors faced.
  • numbers Learn why humans developed a much stronger sense of abstract self-awareness than other animals.
  • numbers Examine how seemingly odd behaviors make perfect sense when viewed through the lens of another culture.
  • numbers Gain insights into central question about human behavior, like why we fall in love and why we blush.
  • numbers View experiments and case studies that shed light on the mysteries about why we do what we do.

Course Overview

Scientific mysteries are everywhere around you. At the bottom of the deepest oceans. On the frontiers of the known universe. But some of life's greatest scientific mysteries lie much closer than that: inside the recesses of the human mind.

Every day of your life is spent surrounded by mysteries that involve what, on the surface, appear to be rather ordinary human behaviors.

  • What makes you happy?
  • Where did your personality come from?
  • Why do you have trouble controlling certain behaviors?
  • What does your self-esteem do?
  • Why do you behave differently as an adult than you did as an adolescent?

Since the start of recorded history, and probably even before, people have been interested in answering questions about why we behave the way we do. In fact, many fields of human endeavor—such as philosophy, psychology, and even theology—are focused on finding explanations for the nature of human behavior. But it's only in recent decades, with the emergence of advanced scientific methods and tools, that researchers can finally approach, understand, and solve the mysteries of emotion, thought, and behavior in the same way that oceanographers investigate the ocean depths or astronomers study the stars above our heads.

To understand the secrets of human behavior is to better know yourself and the people around you—whether they're friends, family members, coworkers, or just acquaintances. Not only will you have a more solid understanding of what it means to be human, you will also have a stronger foundation from which to live more effectively with others and to grasp their intricate behaviors and quirks.

Join award-winning Professor Mark Leary of Duke University, a preeminent force in social psychology and neuroscience education, on a fascinating journey into the complex heart of who you are with Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior. Using the latest theories and research from psychology and other behavioral sciences, you'll find answers—many of them startling—to provocative questions about a variety of rather ordinary (but often quite puzzling) aspects of human behavior. With the powerful insights you'll find in these 24 intellectually scintillating lectures, you'll start looking at your own and other people's behavior with a little more insight and curiosity. And undoubtedly a little more wonderment as well.

Enjoy a Multidimensional Approach to Behavior

"We usually don't think much about our everyday behaviors, even though they can be quite fascinating,"notes Professor Leary. "These things are such a part of human nature that they seem ordinary and unremarkable. And maybe they are, in the sense that we do them regularly. But they are also puzzling and fascinating. Human beings are very unusual animals.”

According to Professor Leary, many of the answers to the puzzles of our behaviors, thoughts, and emotions lie in three broad themes that, taken together, provide us with a more thorough, multidimensional approach for understanding human behavior.

  • Evolution: In some cases, a behavior that is difficult to understand today makes sense when you consider the possibility that the behavior dealt with a particular problem our ancestors faced in the distant past.
  • Self-awareness: No other animal can think consciously about itself with such abstraction as we can. Self-awareness is an important lens through which to view human behavior because much of what you do is influenced by your self-image, your future goals, and your concerns with what other people think, each of which requires abstract self-awareness.
  • Culture: Often, we do odd things because our culture has taught us to. Many puzzling behaviors that appear inexplicable when seen through the eyes of one culture may be understandable when seen through the eyes of another.

Throughout these lectures, you'll also learn about the various interacting forces that influence your behavior. These include your genetic blueprint, your personal experiences, your upbringing, and the people and social groups surrounding you.

Answers to Pressing Questions about Yourself

Every lecture of Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior examines a central question about human behavior we've all experienced at one time or another and that only now, with the aid of scientific research, we can actually explain in ways our ancestors never could.

  • Why do your feelings get hurt? Like physical injury, a loss of social connection compromises your well-being. The brain areas involved in hurt feelings from rejection overlap with the areas involved in the experience of physical pain. Neuroscientists believe that the social pain system was built on top of the older system that mediates physical pain.
  • Why do you sometimes forget things? One explanation for forgetfulness holds that a memory trace in your brain has deteriorated over time. In fact, the brain appears designed to allow disused memories to become less accessible so that you're not overwhelmed with memories that are unimportant or that interfere with the acquisition of new information.
  • Why do you fall in love? Research suggests that romantic love has three components—intimacy, passion, and commitment. Neuroscientists studying the biochemical bases of love have discovered that adrenalin, dopamine, and other chemicals are responsible for physical attraction, the desire for closeness, energetic feelings, and other symptoms of being in love.
  • Why do you blush? Many people think of blushing as a social signal that communicates a nonverbal apology for breaking some social rule. But why do we sometimes blush when we are complimented or praised? Research suggests that blushing is analogous to appeasement displays in other animals. Humans blush when we receive unwanted social attention—negative or positive.

Of course, not all of the mysteries of human behavior have been completely solved. You'll also explore behaviors that still need more definitive study, such as dreaming, kissing, consciousness, and even the creation and appreciation of art and music.

Explore Fascinating Experiments, Case Studies, and Stories

Experiments and case studies (involving both humans and primates) form the backbone of the scientific study of our behavior. Appropriately enough, Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior is filled with fascinating research and anecdotes that shed much-needed light on the subject—stories that are not only illuminating but also intriguing and, sometimes, even shocking.

  • Potato-washing monkeys: In 1952, scientists began feeding sweet potatoes to macaque monkeys on an island off the Japanese coast. In one instance, a female monkey washed sand off her potatoes in the water; other monkeys started imitating her and within a few years, virtually all of the young monkeys in the group were washing their potatoes. These observations showed scientists how culture and behavior—in monkeys and humans as well—can be transmitted from generation to generation.
  • Competitive summer camp: A famous study concerns the recruitment of a group of 12-year-old boys for a summer camp—all of them from the same socioeconomic background. Randomly assigned to two groups, the boys began competing with one another in sports. As time wore on, the groups became so aggressive that researchers had to keep them separated so no one would get hurt. This study helped illustrate the processes that underlie discrimination and conflict.

Uncover the Mysteries of Everyday Life

As Professor Leary shines a sharp light into the human mind, he demonstrates just why he is so respected by his scholarly peers. Winner of the Lifetime Career Award from the International Society for Self and Identity and a Scholarly Book Award from the Speech Communication Association, he has a way of drawing you into the psychology of human beings and unearthing the captivating features of seemingly mundane aspects of our lives.

After finishing the lectures of Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior, you'll realize how much about everyday life you take for granted, develop a deeper understanding of yourself and others, and see how much has yet to be fully explained.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Solving Psychological Mysteries
    Many of the answers to puzzling aspects of human behavior lie in some of the fundamental characteristics of the human species. In this introductory lecture, focus on three broad themes you’ll follow throughout the course: evolution, self-awareness, and culture. x
  • 2
    How Did Human Nature Evolve?
    Much of what you’re motivated to do, you do because evolution built those motives into human nature. Investigate five key areas of our behavior in which evolution plays a critical role, then focus on behavioral adaptations that create problems for us living in a world far removed from our Stone Age ancestors. x
  • 3
    Where Do People’s Personalities Come From?
    Scientists now know with certainty that genes have a pronounced effect on people’s personalities, thanks to insights provided by behavioral genetics. See heritability at work in everyday traits ranging from extraversion and neuroticism to smoking, divorce, and even political beliefs. x
  • 4
    How Can Siblings Be So Different?
    Continue looking at the relationship between genetics and behavior, this time searching for answers as to why children from the same family often have such different personalities. By probing this question from the angle of genes and environmental influences, you’ll understand the complex processes by which nature and nurture interact. x
  • 5
    Why Do People Need Self-Esteem—Or Do They?
    Does having high self-esteem really result in all of the positive effects that people suggest? In this lecture, dispel popular myths about self-esteem and its role in affecting our behavior. You’ll learn about the function of self-esteem, why low self-esteem is related to dysfunctional emotions and behaviors, and more. x
  • 6
    Why Do We Have Emotions?
    Happiness. Anger. Guilt. Why do we have such a wide variety of emotions? Where do they come from? How do they influence our perception of, and response to, events around us? Learn the answers to these and other questions, then investigate two emotions that remain especially mysterious: shame and schadenfreude. x
  • 7
    What Makes People Happy?
    Unravel the mystery of happiness by looking at what behavioral scientists have recently discovered about this powerful emotion. Among the topics you’ll explore: the causes of happiness; happiness’s relationship with money and attractiveness; our tendency to adapt to new levels of happiness; and our inability to forecast how happy or upset we’ll feel. x
  • 8
    Why Are So Many People So Stressed Out?
    Here, Professor Leary demystifies the subject of stress. You’ll examine the three interrelated reasons we are the only species that experiences chronic stress; take a closer look at the major sources of stress in our everyday lives; and examine personality types highly susceptible to stress. x
  • 9
    Why Do Hurt Feelings Hurt?
    Examine why the saying “it hurt my feelings” is more than just an expression. Here, you’ll learn about the causes of hurt feelings (including criticism, betrayal, and teasing); the evolutionary purpose of being hurt by rejection; and the intricate links between physical pain and social pain. x
  • 10
    Why Do We Make Mountains out of Molehills?
    Overreacting, especially to events that pose little or no tangible threats, takes energy, hurts people’s feelings, damages relationships, and can even result in legal problems—but we do it anyway. Why? Find out in this lecture on the puzzling nature of—and social and evolutionary reasons behind—extreme overreactions. x
  • 11
    Why Is Self-Control So Hard?
    Turn now to a puzzling human behavior with important ramifications for everyday life: the difficulty of practicing self-control. In this intriguing lecture, examine the dual-motive conflict at the heart of self-control failures; explore research-tested ways to resist temptation; and investigate the topic of self-control strength, commonly known as willpower. x
  • 12
    Why Do We Forget?
    We all experience moments of forgetfulness. But why? Discover two general explanations cognitive psychologists have for why we forget (involving decayed memory traces and retrieval interference); delve into the problems of repressed memories, flashbulb memories, and eyewitness identification; and learn why forgetfulness can work to your advantage. x
  • 13
    Can Subliminal Messages Affect Behavior?
    What do recent experiments say about your susceptibility to messages you can’t consciously see or hear? How do subliminal stimuli—such as rapidly flashing words or images, and imperceptible audio messages—work on the brain? Could they be used to influence your attitudes and behaviors? Find out all this and more here. x
  • 14
    Why Do We Dream?
    Ponder possible scientific explanations behind dreaming. One theory holds that dreams are our mind’s efforts to make sense of random activity in the brain. Another theory suggests that dreams help us solve problems that are bothering us. Yet another theory poses that dreams merely store memories from the previous day. x
  • 15
    Why Are People So Full of Themselves?
    The “better than average” effect is one example of what psychologists call self-serving biases in people’s views of themselves. Probe whether these egotistical biases are beneficial or harmful, and go inside the mind-set of personality types that display more biases than others (grandiose and vulnerable narcissists) and fewer (humble people). x
  • 16
    Do People Have Psychic Abilities?
    Venture into the field of parapsychology—the study of anomalous psychic experiences such as extrasensory perception. As Professor Leary reveals what decades of fascinating research (including special approaches such as the ganzfeld and presentiment studies) have uncovered about this phenomena, decide for yourself whether psychic abilities are myth or reality. x
  • 17
    Why Don’t Adolescents Behave like Adults?
    See how developmental psychology and neuroscience explain three patterns typically associated with the tumultuous period of adolescence: conflict with adults, emotional volatility, and risky behavior. Also, consider the neuroscience of peer pressure, the psychological benefits of teenage risk-taking, and the truth behind the public’s perception of teenagers. x
  • 18
    How Much Do Men and Women Really Differ?
    Each of us sees differences in how men and women behave. But the truth of the matter may surprise you. Professor Leary discusses what we now know about how men and women differ (and are similar) when it comes to aspects of personality such as agreeableness, sexual practices, mating behaviors, and ambition. x
  • 19
    Why Do We Care What Others Think of Us?
    We all want to make the best possible impression on others. In this lecture, break down the subject of impression management and gain new insights into why we’re so concerned with others’ thoughts about us. As you’ll discover, concern for your public image can have its upsides—and its downsides as well. x
  • 20
    Why Are Prejudice and Conflict So Common?
    If most of us think of humanity as good, fair, and peace-loving, then why is there so much conflict and prejudice out there? Tapping into a series of intriguing studies and experiments, Professor Leary reveals the roots of our behavioral tendency to view the world in an “Us versus Them” context. x
  • 21
    Why Do People Fall In—and Out of—Love?
    Love is one of human behavior’s all-time mysteries. What’s the difference between companionate love and passionate love (the love we fall in and out of)? Which brain chemicals are activated when we fall in love? Is romantic love a Western invention? Get answers to these questions and many others. x
  • 22
    What Makes Relationships Succeed or Fail?
    Here, explore what behavioral research has revealed about intimate relationships—specifically, why some work and some don’t. Learn some of the determinants of satisfying and unsatisfying relationships; chart the course of satisfaction in most relationships; and come away with some keys to making relationships last. x
  • 23
    Why Do People Blush?
    First, examine what happens biologically when we blush and its evolutionary purpose. Then, look closer at blushing’s role in social interactions, its relationship with undesired attention, and its link to social behaviors in apes. Finally, study the phenomenon of the creeping blush and uncover why some people blush more than others. x
  • 24
    A Few Mysteries We Can’t Explain Yet
    Close out the course with a look at a few other behavioral mysteries that remain difficult for scientists to explain—all of which are so common to everyday life that they probably don’t seem mysterious at all: laughter, kissing, the creation and enjoyment of art, and consciousness. x

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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 210-page printed course guidebook
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What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 210-page course synopsis
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Mark Leary

About Your Professor

Mark Leary, Ph.D.
Duke University
Professor Mark Leary is Garonzik Family Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, where he heads the program in Social Psychology and is faculty director of the Duke Interdisciplinary Initiative in Social Psychology. He earned his bachelor's degree in Psychology from West Virginia Wesleyan College and his master's and doctoral degrees in Social Psychology from the University of Florida. He has taught...
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Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 111.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mysteries of Human behavior. Most wonderful in every way!!!!!!!. He is an excellent speaker. Makes sense of what he says and the way he says it!.
Date published: 2020-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb course Prof. Mark Leary is an excellent teacher. I have worked my way through all his course in THE GREAT COURSES. I learn information in every lecture. His delivery style is terrific. Very articulate.
Date published: 2020-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this course! During this pandemic, I choose a few courses to listen to that caught my attention. This was a very well done program. I really learned a lot about myself and my fellow man! Professor Leary was an excellent instructor. Thank you so much for providing us with the lectures.
Date published: 2020-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well presented. Am really enjoying this course and the Professor. Great
Date published: 2020-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Treatise of Human Behavior: super-engaging This course was worth triple what I paid for it! The lecturer was knowledgeable, a great speaker, a true student of his topic. Loved it so much.
Date published: 2020-02-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Informative The information is interesting. I was expecting a more dynamic presentation. I am sure the presenter is very knowledgeable and capable. The way the course was describe, I assumed the presentation would be engaging. It saddens me have to express my honest experience because I value the education and knowledge of the presenter.
Date published: 2020-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent advice Reading Dr. Patrick Grim's "Values" for the umptienth time. What a great lecture.
Date published: 2020-01-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from More hands on needed I wish I would have purchased just one of these classes instead of 6. These classes are mostly lectures and not enough hands on. Other online classes I’ve taken have specific assignments and some include tests. The Mediterranean cooking class doesn’t even provide the amount of ingredients to use in the recipes. I’m totally disappointed in the classes I purchased.
Date published: 2020-01-25
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