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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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hiddenbrain.org/

Episodes

Losing Alaska

As floods, wildfires, and heatwaves hit many parts of the world, signs of climate change seem to be all around us. Scientists have been warning us for years about the looming threat of a warming planet. And yet it?s really hard for many of us to wrap our minds around this existential challenge. Why is that? This week, we bring you a favorite episode about why our brains struggle to grasp the dangers of global climate change.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.
2021-07-26
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Stage Fright

The pressure. The expectations. The anxiety. If there's one thing that connects the athletes gathering for the Olympic games with the rest of us, it's the stress that can come from performing in front of others. In this week?s episode, we talk with cognitive scientist Sian Beilock about why so many of us crumble under pressure ?? and what we can do about it. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.
2021-07-19
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Playing the Gender Card

What is it like to be the only woman at the (poker) table? Or a rare man in a supposedly "feminine" career? In this favorite episode from 2019, we tell the stories of two people who grappled with gender stereotypes on the job, and consider how such biases can shape our career choices.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.
2021-07-12
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You, But Better

Think about the resolutions you made this year: to quit smoking, eat better, or get more exercise. If you're like most people, you probably abandoned those resolutions within a few weeks. That's because change is hard. Behavioral scientist Katy Milkman explains how we can use our minds to do what's good for us. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.
2021-07-05
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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 revisit a favorite episode about a phenomenon known as "egocentric bias," and look at how this bias can lead us astray.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.
2021-06-28
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What Twins Tell Us

In December 1988, two sets of identical twins became test subjects in a study for which they had never volunteered. It was an experiment that could never be performed in a lab, and had never before been documented. This week, we revisit this fascinating story, told by psychologist Nancy Segal, about the eternal tug between nature and nurture in shaping who we are. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.
2021-06-24
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The Power of Apologies

Why is it so hard to say 'I'm sorry?' In part two of our series on forgiveness and apologies, we talk with psychologist Tyler Okimoto about the mental barriers that keep us from admitting when we've done something wrong, as well as the transformative power of apologies. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.
2021-06-21
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The Power of Mercy

Granting forgiveness for the wrongs done to us can be one of the hardest things we face in life. But forgiveness can also be transformative. In the first of a two-part series on apologies and mercy, we talk with psychologist Charlotte Witvliet about the benefits of forgiveness, for both the mind and the body.   If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 
2021-06-14
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What are the Odds?

Coincidences can feel like magic. When we realize that a co-worker shares our birthday or run into a college roommate while on vacation, it can give us a surge of delight. Today, we revisit a favorite episode about these moments of serendipity. Mathematician Joseph Mazur explains why coincidences aren't as unlikely as we think they are, and psychologist Nicholas Epley tells us why we can't help but find meaning in them anyway. 
2021-06-12
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This is Your Brain on Ads

Have you ever opened your computer with the intention of sending one email ? only to spend an hour scrolling through social media? Maybe two hours? In this favorite episode from our archives, we look at how media, tech, and entertainment companies hijack our attention. Plus, we consider how the commercials we saw as children continue to shape our behavior as adults.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 
2021-06-07
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Why We Hold on to Things

What do the things you own say about who you are? Psychologist Bruce Hood studies our relationship with our possessions ? from beloved childhood objects to the everyday items we leave behind. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 
2021-05-31
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Loss and Renewal

No matter how hard we work, we won?t always achieve the goals we set for ourselves. When cognitive scientist Maya Shankar was a girl, she wanted to be a concert violinist. Then an injury forced her to imagine her life anew. This week, we revisit a favorite episode from 2015 with Maya. She?s now the host of a new podcast, A Slight Change of Plans. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 
2021-05-24
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Tribes and Traitors

In the past weeks, headlines around the world have focused on the violent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. In this favorite episode from our archive, we hear from a former Israeli soldier and a Palestinian man who asked a radical question: what happens when you empathize with your enemy?  They found that showing such empathy can be powerful ? but also carries risks.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 
2021-05-21
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Our Noisy Minds

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman says there are invisible factors that distort our judgment. He calls these factors ?noise.? The consequences can be found in everything from marriage proposals to medical diagnoses and prison sentences. This week on Hidden Brain, we consider how to identify noise in the world, and in our own lives. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 
2021-05-17
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The Fake Bride

Have you ever felt as if someone else was writing your personal narrative? Controlling what you do, shaping how you act? This week on Hidden Brain, we bring you a surreal tale about a woman who became a reluctant character in someone else?s love story. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 
2021-05-11
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Josh Gitelson: My Unsung Hero

At the end of every episode, we take a moment to thank an Unsung Hero: someone who?s not on the staff of the show, but who went above and beyond in helping us out. In recent weeks, we've been asking you to share your own examples of someone who's made an impact on your life. This time, Josh Gitelson of State College, Pa., recalls a small gesture of kindness from a stranger on a plane. Do you have a story of an unsung hero you want to share with our listeners? Tell us about it! Please email us at [email protected], with the subject line "Unsung Hero." For some guidelines on what we're looking for, go to hiddenbrain.org/unsunghero.
2021-05-07
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One Head, Two Brains

Your brain is divided in two: a left hemisphere and a right hemisphere. In this 2019 episode of Hidden Brain, we dive into Iain McGilchrist's research on how the left and right hemispheres shape our perceptions. Iain argues that differences in the brain ? and Western society's preference for what one hemisphere has to offer ? have had enormous effects on our lives. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. To learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org
2021-05-03
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Deb Pierce: My Unsung Hero

In every episode of Hidden Brain, we thank an Unsung Hero ? a colleague, a friend or a family member who has helped make our work possible from behind the scenes. Recently, we asked you to tell us about your own unsung heroes. This week, Deb Pierce of Newton, MA, remembers the woman who showed up at one of the hardest moments in her life.
2021-04-30
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Why Conversations Go Wrong

Do you ever struggle to communicate with your mom? Or feel like you and your spouse sometimes speak different languages? We talk with linguist Deborah Tannen about how our conversational styles can cause unintended conflicts, and what we can do to communicate more effectively with the people in our lives. If you like our work, please try to support us! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. To learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org
2021-04-26
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Unsung Hero: A Cold Nevada Night

In every episode of Hidden Brain, we thank an Unsung Hero. Many listeners have written to say they love this segment, even sharing their own Unsung Heroes. Today, we're sharing one of those stories with you. 
2021-04-23
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Humor Us

Hahaha! The average four-year-old child laughs 300 times a day. By contrast, it takes more than two months for the average 40-year-old adult to laugh that many times. This week, we talk with behavioral scientist Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University about why so many of us fall off a ?humor cliff? as we become adults. Plus, how we can inject more laughter into our lives, even during the most difficult of times. 
2021-04-19
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An Unfinished Lesson

More than a century ago, millions of people around the world died in a massive influenza pandemic. The so-called "Spanish flu" outbreak of 1918 revealed a truth about viruses: they don't just infect us biologically. They also detect fissures in societies and fault lines between communities. Historian Nancy Bristow says this remains true today, as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.This week, we revisit our 2020 conversation with Bristow, and consider what history can tell us about human behavior during public health crises. 
2021-04-12
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Useful Delusions

Podcast hosts are used to being the ones asking the questions. This week, though, we?re going to flip that script, and put Shankar in the guest seat. We?ll hear a recent interview he did with Krys Boyd of the public radio show Think from KERA in Dallas. The discussion revolves around Shankar's latest book, Useful Delusions, and how self-deceptions can bind together marriages, communities, and even entire nations.
2021-04-05
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Made of Honor

Stories help us make sense of the world, and can even help us to heal from trauma. They also shape our cultural narratives, for better and for worse. This week on Hidden Brain, we conclude our three-part series on storytelling with a look at the phenomenon of "honor culture," and how it dictates the way we think and behave.   
2021-03-29
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The Story of Your Life

We can?t go back and change the past. We can?t erase trauma and hardship. But what if there was a way to regain control of our personal narratives? In the second part of our series on storytelling, we look at how interpreting the stories of our lives ? and rewriting them ? can change us forever. Also, a note that this week's episode touches on themes of trauma and suicide. If you or someone you know may be having thoughts of suicide, please call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.   
2021-03-22
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The Story of Stories

Why is my friend late? How does nuclear fission work? What occurs when I sneeze? We all need to understand why certain things happen. Some researchers think the drive to explain the world is a basic human impulse, similar to thirst or hunger. This week on Hidden Brain, we begin a three part series on why we tell stories. Psychologist Tania Lombrozo discusses how explanations can lead to discovery, delight, and disaster.
2021-03-15
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Radically Normal

For generations, it was difficult, even dangerous, to express a sexual orientation other than heterosexuality in the United States. But in recent years, much has changed. This week, we revisit our 2019 episode about one of the most striking transformations of public attitude ever recorded. And we consider whether the strategies used by the LGBTQ community hold lessons for other groups seeking change.
2021-03-09
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The Snowball Effect

Why do some companies become household names, while others flame out? How do certain memes go viral? And why do some social movements take off and spread, while others fizzle? Today on the show, we talk with sociologist Damon Centola about social contagion, and how it can be harnessed to build a better world.
2021-03-01
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The Match

We get messages all the time from listeners who say Hidden Brain has helped them to think differently about the world, and about themselves. As producers, nothing is more rewarding or gratifying. Today, we bring you a listener story that especially moved us. It?s a tale about two friends, and how our show played a small role in their dramatic story.
2021-02-26
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Creating God

If you've taken part in a religious service, have you ever stopped to think about how people become believers? Where do the rituals come from? And what purpose does it all serve? This week, we bring you a 2018 episode with social psychologist Azim Shariff. He argues that we should consider religion from a Darwinian perspective, as an innovation that helped human societies to grow and flourish. 
2021-02-22
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Is It Better to Know?

Being able to see what?s happening around us can help us make smart decisions. But knowledge ? especially knowledge of how others perceive us ? can also hold us back, mire us in needless worry, and keep us from achieving our potential. This week, we look at the paradox of knowledge. 
2021-02-16
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Love is Blind

Why do some relationships last, while others falter? In this bonus episode, Shankar looks at one thing successful couples do well. 
2021-02-13
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How They See Us

Stereotypes are all around us, shaping how we see the world ? and how the world sees us. On the surface, the stereotypes that other people hold shouldn?t affect the way we think or act. But our concerns about other people?s perceptions have a way of burrowing deep into our minds. This week, social psychologist Claude Steele explains the psychology of ?stereotype threat.?
2021-02-08
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The Easiest Person to Fool

Physicist Richard Feynman once said, ?The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.? One way we fool ourselves is by imagining we know more than we do; we think we are experts. This week on Hidden Brain, psychologist Adam Grant describes the magic that unfolds when we challenge our own deeply-held beliefs.
2021-02-02
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Afraid of the Wrong Things

Around the world, people are grappling with the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. How do our minds process that risk, and why do some of us process it so differently? This week, we talk with psychologist Paul Slovic about the disconnect between our own assessments of risk and the dangers we face in our everyday lives. 
2021-01-25
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Our Brands, Our Selves

All of us are surrounded by brands. Designer brands. Bargain-shopper brands. Brands for seemingly every demographic slice among us. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself how brands influence you? This week, we bring you our 2019 conversation with Americus Reed, who studies how companies create a worldview around the products they sell, and then get us to make those products a part of who we are. 
2021-01-18
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The Secret Life of Secrets

It?s human nature to hide parts of ourselves that produce shame or anxiety. We tend to skip over details that could change how others perceive us. But no matter how big or small our secret, it will often weigh on our minds, and not for the reasons you might expect. This week on Hidden Brain, we talk with psychologist Michael Slepian about the costs of secret keeping.
2021-01-11
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The Double Standard

It's easy to spot bias in other people, especially those with whom we disagree.  But it?s not so easy to recognize our own biases.  Psychologist Emily Pronin says it?s partly because of our brain architecture. This week on Hidden Brain, we explore what Pronin calls the introspection illusion.
2021-01-04
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A Creature of Habit

At the beginning of the year, many of us make resolutions for the months to come. We resolve to work out more, to procrastinate less, or to save more money. Though some people stick with these aspirations, many of us fall short. This week, we revisit our 2019 conversation with psychologist Wendy Wood, who shares what researchers have found about how to build good habits ? and break bad ones. 
2020-12-28
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Waiting Games

For so many people across the globe, 2020 has been a year of waiting and uncertainty. Waiting to see friends and family in far-flung locales. Waiting to hear about unemployment aid, or job opportunities. Waiting to hear about loved ones in the hospital. And even though the end of 2020 does not mean the end of these hardships, many of us are letting out a sigh of relief as we say goodbye to this difficult year. This week on Hidden Brain, we look at the psychology of relief and waiting, and how we can make periods of limbo less painful.
2020-12-22
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Minimizing Pain, Maximizing Joy

Life is filled with hardships and tragedies ? a fact that 2020 has made all too clear for people across the globe. For thousands of years, philosophers have come up with strategies to help us cope with such hardship. This week on Hidden Brain, we talk with philosopher William Irvine about ancient ideas ? backed by modern psychology ? that can help us manage disappointment and misfortune.
2020-12-14
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Screaming into a 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, we revisit a favorite 2019 episode about how outrage is hijacking our conversations, our communities, and our minds. 
2020-12-07
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A Conspiracy of Silence

We all self-censor at times. We keep quiet at dinner with our in-laws, or nod passively in a work meeting. But what happens when we take this deception a step further, and pretend we believe the opposite of what we really feel? This week on Hidden Brain, economist and political scientist Timur Kuran explains how our personal, professional and political lives are shaped by the fear of what other people think.
2020-11-30
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Where Gratitude Gets You

Many of us struggle with self-control.  And we assume willpower is the key to achieving our goals. But there's a simple and often overlooked mental habit that can improve our health and well-being. This week on Hidden Brain, we talk with psychologist David DeSteno about that habit ? the practice of gratitude. 
2020-11-24
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When You Start to Miss Tony from Accounting

If you're one of the 40 percent of Americans now working from home, you might be reveling in your daily commute to the dining room table. Or you might be saying, "Get me out of here." Economist Nicholas Bloom joins us from his spare bedroom to ponder whether working from home is actually working. 
2020-11-16
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Between Two Worlds

Determination, hard work and sacrifice are core ingredients in the story of the American dream. But philosopher Jennifer Morton argues there is another, more painful requirement to getting ahead: a willingness to leave family and friends behind. This week, we explore the ethical costs of upward mobility.
2020-11-09
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From Pedestals to Guillotines

As election season comes to a close, we explore our contradictory relationship with winners and losers. We tend to idolize the powerful, but we also enjoy seeing the high and mighty fall. Today we explore this paradox with a 2017 episode that takes us from Hollywood and the White House to the forests of Tanzania.
2020-11-02
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Not at the Dinner Table

We typically divide the country into two distinct groups: Democrats and Republicans. But what if the real political divide in our country isn't between "left" and "right"? What if it's between those who care intensely about politics, and those who don?t?  This week we talk to Yanna Krupnikov, a political scientist at Stony Brook University, about an alternative way to understand Americans' political views. 
2020-10-26
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Moral Combat

Most of us have a clear sense of right and wrong. But what happens when we view politics through a moral lens? This week, we talk with psychologist Linda Skitka about how moral certainty can produce moral blinders ? and endanger democracy. 
2020-10-20
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Beyond Doomscrolling

There?s no question that 2020 has been a tough year. We're grappling with a global pandemic. A deep recession. Fresh reminders of racial injustice. But today ? without minimizing the justifiable pain that 2020 has brought to so many people ? we wanted to explore another way of seeing things. We talk with psychologist Steven Pinker about why it's so hard to see things that are going well in the world. 
2020-10-12
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