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Hidden Brain

Hidden Brain

Shankar Vedantam uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships.

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npr.org/series/423302056/hidden-brain

Episodes

The Night That Lasted A Lifetime

Not long after his sixteenth birthday, Fred Clay was arrested for the murder of a cab driver in Boston. Eventually, Fred was found guilty ? but only after police and prosecutors used questionable psychological techniques to single him out as the killer. This week on Hidden Brain, we go back four decades to uncover the harm that arises when flawed ideas from psychology are used to determine that a teenager should spend the rest of his life behind bars.
2020-07-06
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The Founding Contradiction

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." These words, penned by Thomas Jefferson more than 240 years ago, continue to inspire many Americans. And yet they were written by a man who owned hundreds of slaves, and fathered six children by an enslaved woman. As we mark Independence Day this week, we return to a 2018 episode with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed. We explore the contradictions in Jefferson's life ? and how those contradictions might resonate in our own lives.
2020-06-29
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Buy, Borrow, Steal

Policymakers have a tried-and-true game plan for jump-starting the economy in times of severe recession: Push stimulus packages and lower interest rates so Americans will borrow and spend. But economist Amir Sufi says the way we traditionally address a recession is deeply flawed. He argues that by encouraging "sugar-rush" solutions, the nation is putting poor and middle-class Americans and the entire economy at even greater risk. This week we look at the role of debt as a hidden driver of recessions, and how we might create a more stable system.
2020-06-22
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A Rap on Trial

In the past few weeks, the nation has been gripped by protests against police brutality toward black and brown Americans. The enormous number of demonstrators may be new, but the biases they're protesting are not. In 2017, we looked at research on an alleged form of bias in the justice system. This week, we revisit that story, and explore how public perceptions of rap music may have played a role in the prosecution of a man named Olutosin Oduwole.
2020-06-15
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The Air We Breathe

President Trump said this week that a few "bad apples" were to blame for police killings of black people. But research suggests that something more complicated is at play ? a force that affects everyone in the culture, not just police officers. In this bonus episode, we revisit our 2017 look at implicit bias and how a culture of racism can infect us all.
2020-06-12
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Playing Favorites

If we do a favor for someone we know, we think we've done a good deed. What we don't tend to ask is: Who have we harmed by treating this person with more kindness than we show toward others? This week, in the second of our two-part series on moral decision-making, we consider how actions that come from a place of love can lead to a more unjust world.
2020-06-08
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Justifying The Means

When we are asked to make a moral choice, many of us imagine it involves listening to our hearts. To that, philosopher Peter Singer says, "nonsense." Singer believes there are no moral absolutes, and that logic and calculation are better guides to moral behavior than feelings and intuitions. This week, we talk with Singer about why this approach is so hard to put into practice, and look at the hard moral choices presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
2020-06-01
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The Time Machine

In recent months, many of us have looked back with longing at our lives before COVID-19. For many of us, that world was one of bustle and activity ? marked by scenes of packed restaurants, crowded subway cars, and chaotic playgrounds. In this audio essay, Shankar discusses our wistfulness for the world before the pandemic, and why such nostalgia can actually help to orient us toward the future.
2020-05-30
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The People Like Us

Far from being "the great equalizer," COVID-19 has disproportionately sickened and killed African Americans and Latinos in the U.S. Many of the reasons for these inequalities reach back to before the pandemic began. This week, we return to a 2019 episode that investigates a specific source of racial disparities in medicine and beyond?and considers an uncomfortable solution.
2020-05-25
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Our Better Angels

In the months since the spread of the coronavirus, stories of selfishness and exploitation have become all too familiar: people ignoring social distancing guidelines, or even selling medical equipment at inflated prices. Most of our public and economic policies take aim at these sorts of people ? the wrongdoers and the profiteers. But is there a hidden cost to the rest of us when we put bad actors at the center of our thinking? Do the measures we put in place to curtail the selfish inadvertently hurt our capacity to do right by others?
2020-05-18
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A Hidden Brain Commencement Address

Commencement ceremonies allow us to take stock of what we've accomplished and where we're headed. This is one of the key opportunities that students and families have lost, as social distancing precautions lead schools to cancel in-person graduations. In this "commencement address," recorded at the request of the public radio program 1A, Shankar Vedantam offers thoughts on what it means to mark such a milestone at this moment, and how graduates can use the disruption caused by the pandemic to think about their lives in new ways.
2020-05-13
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The Dramatic Cure

In recent months, many of us have become familiar with the sense of fear expressing itself in our bodies. We may feel restless or physically exhausted. At times, we may even have trouble catching our breath. The deep connection between mind and body that seems so salient now was also at the center of our episode about the placebo effect. This week, we return to this 2019 story that asks what placebos might teach us about the nature of healing.
2020-05-11
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The Choices Before Us

An abundance of choices is a good thing, right? In the United States, where choice is often equated with freedom and control, the answer tends to be a resounding 'yes.' But researchers say the relationship between choice and happiness isn't always so clear-cut. This week, we talk with psychologist Sheena Iyengar about making better decisions, and how she's thinking about the relationship between choices and control during the coronavirus pandemic.
2020-05-04
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Starving The Watchdogs

Amidst the confusion and chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have sought out a long-trusted lifeline: the local newspaper. Though the value of local journalism is more apparent now than ever, newspapers are not thriving. They're collapsing. For many communities, this means fewer local stories and job losses. But new research suggests there's another consequence that's harder to spot ? one that comes with a hefty price tag for residents. This week on Hidden Brain, we return to a 2018 episode that's acutely relevant today and ask, who bears the cost when nobody wants to pay?
2020-04-27
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A Social Prescription

Confined to our homes, many of us are experiencing a newfound appreciation for our social relationships. What we may not realize ? and what physicians and researchers have only recently started emphasizing ? is the importance of these connections to our physical health. This week, we talk with former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy about why he considers loneliness a matter of public health, and how we can all deepen our social ties.
2020-04-20
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Sex Machines

From stone statues to silicone works of art, we have long sought solace and sex from inanimate objects. Time and technology have perfected the artificial lover: today we have life-size silicone love dolls so finely crafted they feel like works of art. Now, with the help of robotics and artificial intelligence, these dolls are becoming even more like humans. This week, we revisit our 2019 story about the history of the artificial lover, and consider what love and sex look like in the age of robots.
2020-04-13
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Playing Tight And Loose

We all know people who prefer to follow the rules, and others who prefer to flout them. Psychologist Michele Gelfand defines these two ways of being as "tight" and "loose." She says the tight/loose framework can help us to better understand individuals, businesses, and even nations. This week, we look at the core traits of tight and loose worldviews, and how they may shape our lives ? from interactions with our spouses to global efforts to fight the coronavirus.
2020-04-06
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Close Enough: Living Through Others

A silver lining of social distancing: you may have more time and space to pursue the projects you've bookmarked on your web browser. Whether your goal is to build a barn door or to update your makeup routine, online tutorials have made it easier than ever to bring the world into your living room or kitchen or bedroom. But a curious thing can happen when we watch experts doing expert things. This week, we explore the dangers and the delights of vicarious living, with a favorite episode from 2019.
2020-03-30
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An Unfinished Lesson

A virus is more than a biological organism. It's a social organism. It detects fissures in societies and fault lines between communities. Historian Nancy Bristow shares the lessons about human behavior that we can take away from a century-old pandemic.
2020-03-23
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Panic In The Street

It sounds like a movie plot: police discover the body of a young man who's been murdered. The body tests positive for a deadly infectious disease. Authorities trace the killing to a gang. They race to find the gang members, who may also be incubating the virus. This week on Hidden Brain, we revisit our 2016 story about disease, panic, and how a public health team used psychology to confront an epidemic.
2020-03-16
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The Bomb That Didn't Explode

We know that we live in an ever-changing world, but one thing we often overlook is demographic change. Whether the world's population is growing or shrinking can affect many aspects of our lives, from the number of kids we have to the likelihood that we'll live to old age. This week on Hidden Brain, we explore how our planet's population is changing, and what that means for us in the century to come.
2020-03-10
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The Tale of the Cowboy Philosopher

In 2009, an old man died in a California nursing home. His obituary included not just his given name, but a long list of the pseudonyms he'd been known to use. In this episode, which we originally released in 2019, we trace the life of Riley Shepard, a hillbilly musician, writer, small-time con man and, perhaps, a genius.
2020-03-03
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The Influence You Have

Think about the last time you asked someone for something. Maybe you were nervous or worried about what the person would think of you. Chances are that you didn't stop to think about the pressure you were exerting on that person. This week, we explore a phenomenon that psychologists refer to as "egocentric bias," and look at how this bias can lead us astray.
2020-02-24
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Liar, Liar, Liar

We all lie. But what separates the average person from the infamous cheaters we see on the news? Dan Ariely says we like to think it's character ? but in his research he's found it's more often opportunity. Dan Ariely is a professor at Duke University and the author of the book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone ? Especially Ourselves. We spoke to him in March 2017.
2020-02-17
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Passion Isn't Enough

Many Americans feel an obligation to keep up with political news. But maybe we should be focusing our energies elsewhere. Political scientist Eitan Hersh says there's been a rise in "political hobbyism" in the United States. We treat politics like entertainment, following the latest updates like we follow our favorite sports teams. Instead, he says, we should think of politics as a way to acquire power and persuade our neighbors to back the issues we support.
2020-02-10
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When Things Click

There can be a lot of psychological noise involved in teaching. But what if we replaced all that mental clutter...with a click? This week, we bring you a 2018 episode exploring an innovative idea about how we learn. It will take us from a dolphin exhibit in Hawaii to a top teaching hospital in New York. It's about a method to quiet the noise that can turn learning into a minefield of misery.
2020-02-04
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Secret Friends

Where is the line between what is real and what is imaginary? It seems like an easy question to answer: if you can see it, hear it, or touch it, then it's real, right? But what if this way of thinking is limiting one of the greatest gifts of the mind? This week, we meet people who experience the invisible as real, and learn how they hone their imaginations to see the world with new eyes.
2020-01-27
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Warnings, Warnings Everywhere

After a disaster happens, we want to know whether something could have been done to avoid it. Did anyone see this coming? Many times, the answer is yes. So why didn't the warnings lead to action? This week, we revisit a favorite 2018 episode about the psychology of warnings. We visit a smelly Alaskan tunnel, hear about a gory (and fictional) murder plot, and even listen to some ABBA.
2020-01-20
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Emotional Currency

What's the point of money? The answer might seem obvious: we need it to get paid for our work, and to buy the things we need. But there's also a deeper way to look at the role of money in our lives. This week we explore an anthropologist's take on the origin story of money. What if the cash and coins we carry are not just tools for transactions, but manifestations of human relationships?
2020-01-13
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On The Knife's Edge

What would drive someone to take another person's life? When researchers at the University of Chicago asked that question, the answer was a laundry list of slights: a stolen jacket, or a carelessly lobbed insult. It made them wonder whether crime rates could be driven down by teaching young men to pause, take a deep breath, and think before they act. In this 2017 episode, we go inside a program that teaches Chicago teens to do just that. We also explore what research has found about whether this approach actually works.
2020-01-06
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Creatures Of Habit

At the beginning of the year, many of us make resolutions for the months to come. We resolve to work out more, procrastinate less, or save more money. Though some people stick with these aspirations, many of us fall short. This week, psychologist Wendy Wood shares what researchers have found about how to build good habits ? and break bad ones.
2019-12-30
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Why We Love Surprises

Why do we fall for surprise endings? It turns out that our capacity to be easily fooled in books and movies is made possible by a handful of predictable mental shortcuts. In this 2018 conversation, we talk with Vera Tobin, one of the world's first cognitive scientists to study plot twists. She says storytellers have been exploiting narrative twists and turns for millennia ? and that studying these sleights of hand can give us a better understanding of the contours of the mind.
2019-12-23
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Did That Really Happen?

Our memories are easily contaminated. We can be made to believe we rode in a hot air balloon or kissed a magnifying glass ? even if those things never happened. So how do we know which of our memories are most accurate? This week, psychologist Ayanna Thomas explains how memory works, how it fails, and ways to make it better.
2019-12-17
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Zipcode Destiny

There's a core belief embedded in the story of the United States ? the American Dream. Today we look at the state of that dream as we revisit our 2018 conversation with economist Raj Chetty. We'll ask some questions that carry big implications: can you put an economic value on a great kindergarten teacher? How is it that two children living just a few blocks from each other can have radically different chances in life? And what gives Salt Lake City an edge over Cleveland when it comes to offering people better prospects than their parents?
2019-12-09
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In The Heat Of The Moment

In a fit of anger or in the grip of fear, many of us make decisions that we never would have anticipated. This week, we look at situations that make us strangers to ourselves ? and why it's so difficult to remember what these "hot states" feel like once the moment is over.
2019-12-03
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Counting Other People's Blessings

Envy is one of the most unpleasant of all human emotions. It also turns out to be one of the most difficult for researchers to study. And yet, there's mounting evidence that envy is a powerful motivator. This week, we explore an emotion that can inspire us to become better people ? or to commit unspeakable acts.
2019-11-25
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The Ventilator

Many of us believe we know how we'd choose to die. We have a sense of how we'd respond to a diagnosis of an incurable illness. This week, we have the story of one family's decades-long conversation about dying. What they found is that the people we are when death is far in the distance may not be the people we become when death is near.
2019-11-19
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Hungry, Hungry Hippocampus

Anyone who's tried (and failed) to follow a diet knows that food is more than fuel. This week, we revisit our 2018 episode about the psychology behind what we eat, what we spit out, and when we come back for more.
2019-11-11
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The Talk Market

Can we affect the rise and fall of the economy? This week on Hidden Brain, we talk with Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller about the powerful ways in which stories and psychology shape our economic lives. He argues that narratives affect not just the purchases we make as individuals, but the fate of our entire economic system.
2019-11-04
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BS Jobs

Have you ever had a job where you had to stop and ask yourself: what am I doing here? If I quit tomorrow, would anyone even notice? This week on Hidden Brain, we revisit our 2018 conversation with anthropologist David Graeber about the rise of what he calls "bullsh*t jobs," and how these positions affect the people who hold them.
2019-10-28
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The Monkey Marketplace

What makes the mind of a human different from that of other animals? Psychologist Laurie Santos says we can't know the answer to that question if we only study humans. This week, we turn to Laurie's work with monkeys to understand which parts of human behavior are distinct, and which we share with other species.
2019-10-21
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The Lonely American Man

Boys get the message at a young age: don't show your feelings. Don't rely on anyone. This week, we bring you a favorite 2018 episode about misguided notions of masculinity in the United States. We explore how these notions create stressed-out romantic relationships, physical health problems, and a growing epidemic of loneliness. Plus, we consider how we might begin to tell a different story about what it means to be a man.
2019-10-14
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Screaming Into The Void

Turn on the news or look at Twitter, and it's likely you'll be bombarded by outrage. Many people have come to believe that the only way to spark change is to incite anger. This week on Hidden Brain, how outrage is hijacking our conversations, our communities, and our minds.
2019-10-07
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Baby Talk

Babies are speaking to us all the time, but most of us have no clue what they're saying. To researchers, though, the babbling of babies is knowable, predictable, and best of all, teachable to us non-experts. This week, we revisit our May 2018 primer on how to decipher the secret language of babies and young children.
2019-09-30
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We're All Gonna Live Forever!

Last week, we spoke with psychologist Sheldon Solomon about the fear of death and how it shapes our actions. This week, we pivot from psychology and politics to religion and history as we explore how people have tried to resolve these fears. We talk with philosopher Stephen Cave about the ways we assure ourselves that death is not really the end.
2019-09-23
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We're All Gonna Die!

Death may be inescapable, but we do our best to avoid thinking about it. Psychologist Sheldon Solomon says we're not very successful though. This week on Hidden Brain, we confront how death anxiety courses through our actions, even when we don't realize it.
2019-09-16
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You Can't Hit Unsend

Social media sites offer quick and easy ways to share ideas, crack jokes, find old friends. They can make us feel part of something big and wonderful and fast-moving. But the things we post don't go away. And they can come back to haunt us. This week, we explore how one teenager's social media posts destroyed a golden opportunity he'd worked for all his life.
2019-09-10
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You 2.0: Decide Already!

For the last episode in our You 2.0 series, we bring you a favorite conversation with Harvard researcher Dan Gilbert. He explains why we're bad at predicting our future happiness, how that affects our decision making, and why we're actually happier after making a decision that feels irrevocable.
2019-09-02
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You 2.0: Deep Work

When your phone buzzes or a notification pops up your screen, do you stop what you're doing to look and respond? That's what many of us are doing. Even though we think we should be less distracted by technology, we haven't admitted the true cost of these interruptions. This week, we revisit our 2017 conversation with computer scientist Cal Newport, and consider ways we can all immerse ourselves in more meaningful work.
2019-08-27
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You 2.0: Rebel With A Cause

Francesca Gino studies rebels ? people who practice "positive deviance" and achieve incredible feats of imagination. They know how, and when, to break the rules that should be broken. So how can you activate your own inner non-conformist? This week, we ponder the traits of successful rebels as we revisit our 2018 conversation with Gino.
2019-08-19
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