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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

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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The Logic of Rage

Neuroscientist Doug Fields was on a trip to Europe when a pickpocket stole his wallet. Doug, normally mild-mannered, became enraged ? and his fury turned him into a stranger to himself. Today on Hidden Brain, we explore the secret logic of irrational anger. 
2020-10-06
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An Update from Shankar

It?s been five years since we launched this podcast. Today, we want to take a moment to thank the many people who?ve helped us over the years. And we want to share some changes with you. 
2020-10-02
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Laughter: The Best Medicine

If you listen closely to giggles, guffaws, and polite chuckles, you can discern a huge amount of information about people and their relationships with each other. This week, we talk with neuroscientist Sophie Scott about the many shades of laughter, from cackles of delight among close friends to the "canned" mirth of TV laugh tracks.
2020-09-28
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The Halo Effect

Judy, Lyn and Donna Ulrich were driving to a volleyball game when their Ford Pinto was hit from behind by a Chevy van. The Pinto caught fire, and the three teenagers wereburned to death. This week on Hidden Brain, we talk to a former Ford insider who could have voted to recall the Pinto years before the Ulrich girls were killed ? but didn't. And we ask, is it possible to fairly evaluate our past actions when we know how things turned out?
2020-09-21
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Why Nobody Feels Rich

If you've ever flown in economy class on a plane, you probably had to walk through the first class cabin to get to your seat. Maybe you noticed the extra leg room. The freshly-poured champagne. Maybe you were annoyed, or envious. Social psychologist Keith Payne says we tend to compare ourselves with those who have more than us, but rarely with those who have less. This week, we revisit our 2019 episode on the psychology of income inequality, and how perceptions of our own wealth shape our lives.
2020-09-14
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The Fee-for-Service Monster

The United States spends trillions of dollars on healthcare every year, but our outcomes are worse than those of other countries that spend less money. Why? Physician and healthcare executive Vivian Lee explains the psychological and economic incentives embedded in the American model of medicine, and makes the case for a different way forward.
2020-09-07
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You 2.0: Empathy Gym

Some people are good at putting themselves in another person's shoes. Others may struggle to relate. But psychologist Jamil Zaki argues that empathy isn't a fixed trait. This week, in our final installment of You 2.0, we revisit a favorite episode about how to exercise our empathy muscles.
2020-08-31
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You 2.0: WOOP, WOOP!

American culture is all about positive affirmations. Dream big! Shoot for the stars! But do positive fantasies actually help us achieve our goals? This week, as part of our You 2.0 summer series, we revisit a conversation with researcher Gabriele Oettingen about how we can make our goals more attainable.
2020-08-24
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You 2.0: Loss And Renewal

Maya Shankar was well on her way to a career as a violinist when an injury closed that door. This week, as part of our annual You 2.0 series on personal growth and reinvention, we revisit our 2015 conversation with Maya, in which she shares how she found a new path forward after losing an identity she loved.
2020-08-17
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You 2.0: The Mind's Eye

Some challenges feel insurmountable. But psychologist Emily Balcetis says the solutions are often right in front of our eyes. This week, as part of our annual series on personal growth and reinvention, Emily explains how we can harness our sight to affect our behavior.
2020-08-11
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You 2.0: Our Pursuit of Happiness

Sometimes, life can feel like being stuck on a treadmill. No matter how hard you try to get happier, you end up back where you started. What's going on here? We kick off our annual You 2.0 summer series with happiness researcher Elizabeth Dunn, who explains how to fight the treadmill feeling.
2020-08-03
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Edge Effect

There is great comfort in the familiar. It's one reason humans often flock to other people who share the same interests, laugh at the same jokes, hold the same political views. But familiar ground may not be the best place to cultivate creativity. Researchers have found that people with deep connections to those from other countries and cultures often see benefits in terms of their creative output. This week, we revisit a favorite 2018 episode about the powerful connection between the ideas we dream up and the people who surround us, and what it really takes to think outside the box.
2020-07-28
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The Untold Story Of Lyndie B. Hawkins

In 2019, a novel by a new author, Gail Shepherd, arrived in bookstores. The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins tells the story of a young white girl growing up in the South. The book has been well received, but it is not the book Shepherd intended to write. In her original drafts, Shepherd, a white author, created a Lyndie who was Vietnamese-American, and dealing with issues of race in the deep South. This week we look at what it means to be a storyteller in a time of caustic cultural debate and ask when, if ever, is it okay to tell a story that is not your own?
2020-07-21
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Romeo & Juliet In Rwanda

How do you change someone's behavior? Most of us would point to education or persuasion. But what if the answer lies elsewhere? This week, we revisit a 2018 story about human nature and behavior change ? a story that will take us on a journey from Budapest to the hills of Rwanda.
2020-07-13
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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.
2020-07-07
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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.
2020-06-13
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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 withmore 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.
2020-06-09
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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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