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The Daily Tar Heel

Q&A with author, award-winning psychologist, Kurt Gray

Kurt Gray is the co-author of "The Mind Club: Who Thinks, What Feels, and Why It Matters," a newly-released book that examines mind perception and human behavior. 

An award-winning psychologist, Gray runs the Mind Perception and Morality Lab at UNC, which investigates the behavior behind religion, politics and other aspects of society. Staff writer Zoe Hazerjian spoke to Gray about mind perception, his research and Donald Trump. 

The Daily Tar Heel: How did the idea for this book come about?

Kurt Gray: As Daniel (M. Wegner, co-author) and I looked around the world, we realized that much of our disagreement seems to rely upon mind perception. We looked at all the various kinds of minds in the book. 

DTH: Who is the audience for this book?

KG: Anyone interested in the workings of the mind and moral disagreements.

DTH: Does this book appeal to students, specifically UNC students?

KG: Yes, definitely. When I talk about the research in my classes, my students seem very interested.

DTH: How would you define mind perception?

KG: The book offers a pretty good description of it. In general, it's how we understand other’s ability to think and feel.

DTH: Could you talk a little about the Mind Perception and Morality Lab at UNC?

KG: We investigate how people perceive the minds of others and why that matters so much to their moral judgement. Some projects we have investigated: how people understand the mind of God, debates about abortion and how we understand the minds of our enemies.

DTH: Any interesting or shocking revelations that came about while writing/researching this book?

KG: I think all the revelation are pretty interesting. I think it was surprising just how pervasive questions of mind perception are. Like there would be topics that were looking at what seemed to be far away from mind perception, but it turned out that mind perception was very important to understand them.

DTH: What it's like to work with Mr. Wegner on this book?

KG: He was my graduate advisor, and he passed away while I was writing it, and so it was a chance for me to finish up his last project.

DTH: How has this book defined or refined your current research?

KG: It’s mostly a summary of the research I've done. It represents, over the past decade, the importance of mind perception and moral judgement. So it represents the trajectory of my research, rather than a summary.

DTH: Why are UNC students obsessed with basketball right now?

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KG: I don’t think you need a Ph.D. to answer that — we are in the Final Four. That’s pretty awesome.

DTH: What are our minds telling us about Donald Trump or the larger political process?

KG: I think the rise of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders has to do with how many people on the left and the right tend to see themselves as relative victims to where they used to be. So they like that either their place in America has fallen. Trump supporters are older, less educated, white men who feel like they are losing status, and Sanders supporters are young people, educated folks who feel like the opportunities that were promised to them are not available. And most of them tend to see their own minds in terms of being victims and Bernie and Trump as the hero.

DTH: Any plans for another book supplementing that research?

KG: No new book right for now. No plans yet, but I am definitely open to it.