The Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain's host Shankar Vedantam reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.
Pundits and prognosticators make predictions all the time: about everything from elections, to sports, to global affairs. This week on Hidden Brain, we explore why they're often wrong, and how we can all do it better.
In a five year period from 2011 to 2016, just twelve percent of terrorist attacks in the United States were perpetrated by Muslims. More than fifty percent, on the other hand, were carried out by Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, or other far right groups. So why do Americans spend so much time worrying about "radical Islamic terrorism?" This week on Hidden Brain, we look at how the media over-covers some acts of terrorism — and quickly forgets others. We also look at some of the psychological reasons we have a hard time putting the threat of terrorism in perspective.
Olutosin Oduwole was an aspiring rapper and college student when he was arrested in 2007. He was given an unusual charge: "attempting to make a terrorist threat." Prosecutors used his writings — which he maintains were rap lyrics — to build their case against him. This week on Hidden Brain, we revisit Oduwole's story, and how public perceptions of rap music may have played a role.
After a police-involved shooting, there's often a familiar blame game: Maybe the cop was racist. Maybe the person who was shot really was threatening. Or maybe, the bias that leads cops to shoot affects us all. This week on Hidden Brain, we explore how unconscious bias can infect a culture — and how a police shooting may say as much about a community as it does about individuals.
In the early 1980s, a couple of researchers wrote an article in The Atlantic that would have far-reaching consequences. The article introduced a new idea about crime and policing. It was called Broken Windows. The idea was simple: A broken window is a sign of a neglected community, and a neglected community is a place where crime can thrive. The researchers said, if police fixed the small problems that created visible signs of disorder, the big ones would disappear. Today, we explore how ideas sometimes get away from those who invented them... and then are taken to places that were never intended.
It's normal to feel drawn to people you share something with — whether that's a name, or a birthday, or a common background. But did you know that women named Georgia also gravitate toward the state of Georgia? And Virginias are slightly more likely to move to Virginia? Or that people with the last name Carpenter are actually more likely to be carpenters? This week on Hidden Brain, we talk about all the subtle ways we prefer things that have something to do with us, and why that means, for example, we prefer that IKEA furniture we built ourselves. This phenomenon — which we're calling the Narcissus Effect — can have much bigger implications than we might at first think.
The Greek poet Archilochus is known for the phrase, "The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one big thing." This week, we'll use this metaphor as a way to understand two different cognitive styles. The first is that of a tactician who is comfortable with nuance and contradiction (the fox), the second is that of a big thinker, motivated by one organizing idea (the hedgehog). We'll explore this idea through the story of a pioneering surgeon whose hedgehog tendencies led him to great triumphs, and a heartbreaking tragedy.
Have you ever googled something that you would never dream of saying out loud to another human being? Many of us turn to Google when we have a deeply personal or embarrassing question. And we're often more honest when we type our questions into search engines than when we answer surveys or talk to friends. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a former data scientist at Google, says our online searches provide unprecedented insight into what we truly think, want, and do. This week on Hidden Brain, what big data knows about our deepest thoughts and secrets.
How do you spend your money? On food, transportation, or housing? On shoes, cars, coffee, fancy restaurants? You might think you use money just to, you know, buy stuff. But as Neeru Paharia explains, the way we spend often says a lot about who we are, and what we want to project. We use money to express our values — by going to the local coffee shop instead of Starbucks, or by boycotting — or buycotting — Ivanka Trump shoes. We delete Uber; we refuse to fly United. We seek out or avoid Chick-fil-A. This week on Hidden Brain, the ways we use our money to tell stories about ourselves, and to ourselves.
Millions of people around the world use social media every day to stay in touch with friends and family. But ironically, studies have shown that people who spend more time on these sites feel more socially isolated than those who don't. This week on Hidden Brain, we explore the psychological effects that social media has on us, and how FOMO — or, the fear of missing out — can lead to actually missing out.
This week, Hidden Brain considers the power of touch. First, Alison MacAdam tells us the story of her security blanket, called Baba. Then, Shankar interviews writer Deborah Blum about groundbreaking experiments into the importance of affection for young children.
Imagine a concrete room, not much bigger than a parking space. You're in there 23 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the reality of solitary confinement at prisons across the United States. Keramet Reiter, a criminology professor at UC Irvine, says that while some inmates in solitary are dangerous, others are there because they're difficult for prisons to manage, or because of bureaucratic inertia. This week on Hidden Brain, we look at what happens in solitary confinement, and the psychological effects of being alone for long periods of time.
Everybody lies. This is not breaking news. 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.
When you're hungry, it can be hard to think of anything other than food. When you're desperately poor, you may constantly worry about making ends meet. When you're lonely, you might obsess about making friends. This week on Hidden Brain, we explore the psychological phenomenon of scarcity and how it can affect our ability to see the big picture and cope with problems in our lives.