Anonymous asked: Hello! I know this might be strange (Considering it's not even OUT yet and all), but I was just wondering what books you read about psychology/body language in preparation for "The Naturals". Textbooks, maybe? That sort of thing is really interesting and I always wonder how writers study up to make such interesting AND believable books. Thanks!
I did two kinds of research to write THE NATURALS. The first falls under the category of what I like to call “research by living.” It’s basically the idea that rather than coming up with an idea for a book and THEN researching it, you have certain areas of expertise and interests, and ideas fall out of those pre-existing knowledge bases.
So, for example, back when I wrote THE SQUAD, I didn’t have to research competitive cheerleading because I’d been a competitive cheerleader. And when I wrote RAISED BY WOLVES, the pack structure and hierarchy and all of the animal behavior tidbits were greatly inspired by the fact that I’d spent several summers on an island full of monkeys, observing things like dominance hierarchies and violent challenges for dominance first hand.
Similarly, a large percentage of the research behind THE NATURALS was stuff I already knew before I came up with the idea of the book. I’ve always been fascinated by the way the mind works and have spent the past decade of my life researching that topic first-hand. I’ve got degrees in cognitive science, psychiatry, and psychology; I read and publish in psychology journals; I come up with theories and test them and actually run experiments.
So just by virtue of the fact that my day job is being a psychology professor, I had a lot of information rattling around in my head that made me want to write this book—the work of people like Paul Ekman (who studies universal emotions, facial expressions, micro expressions, and deception detecting) and Simon Baron-Cohen (one of my former advisors, who studies what he calls “empathizing” and “systemizing” abilities, that exist along a spectrum and may compete with each other for space in the brain). There’s a lot of really neat research out there on the psychology of different emotions (like, for instance, Paul Rozin’s research on disgust) and the physiological correlates of the ability to interpret emotions (for instance, there’s some really interesting stuff on the hormone oxytocin and emotion reading). And my PhD advisor, Paul Bloom, just published a new book on the developmental origins of good and evil, in which he discusses (among other things) psychopathy and moral emotions, so those are things that came up a lot in our lab.
So. I had a pre-existing interest (and some knowledge of) the way our mind works and specifically, the domain of social cognition and theory of mind (or how we interpret the invisible mental states of others—which is one of the things I study as a scientist). So I had a pretty good basis going in for writing Michael’s ability, and Lia’s, and Sloane’s (which isn’t social, but which falls roughly under the heading of “systemizing,” which I talked briefly about above).
The ability that I really had to study up on was Cassie’s. Not only did I not have a prior background in criminal psychology or psychological profiling, I hadn’t really run into much research in cognitive science on how the average person builds personality models of people. (Although there is indeed some cool work on the topic).
Long story short, I actually did end up doing some more active researching to write THE NATURALS. One of my favorite books on the topic was MIND-HUNTER by John Douglas, an FBI agent who pioneered the discipline of criminal profiling. The book is part explanatory, part memoir, as Douglas walks us through some of his most high profile cases and explains how he (and the rest of the FBI) profiled them. I also read some textbook-like entries on profiling, and interviews with other profilers, and so on, but for me, the most helpful thing was the memoir-style pieces, since they actually took me inside the head of profilers.
The next challenge, of course, was combining what I’d learned about criminal profiling with what I knew about social cognition and how we view others to figure out how a person like Cassie, who naturally profiles everyone around her, would view the world. Of all the Naturals, hers was the only ability I had to be able to write from a first-person perspective, so I really had to spend a lot of time thinking about how her mind would work in even mundane situations.