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Hidden Brain

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Shankar Vedantam uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships.
278 Episodes
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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.
"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.
Buy, Borrow, Steal

Buy, Borrow, Steal

2020-06-2250:5121

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.
A Rap on Trial

A Rap on Trial

2020-06-1556:4916

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.
The Air We Breathe

The Air We Breathe

2020-06-1237:3215

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.
Playing Favorites

Playing Favorites

2020-06-0854:3623

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.
Justifying The Means

Justifying The Means

2020-06-0154:5530

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.
The Time Machine

The Time Machine

2020-05-3035:4115

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.
The People Like Us

The People Like Us

2020-05-2536:3319

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.
Our Better Angels

Our Better Angels

2020-05-1841:2218

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?
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.
The Dramatic Cure

The Dramatic Cure

2020-05-1152:2014

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.
The Choices Before Us

The Choices Before Us

2020-05-0450:4944

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.
Starving The Watchdogs

Starving The Watchdogs

2020-04-2732:064

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?
A Social Prescription

A Social Prescription

2020-04-2050:4540

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.
Sex Machines

Sex Machines

2020-04-1328:4319

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.
Playing Tight And Loose

Playing Tight And Loose

2020-04-0649:4646

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.
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.
An Unfinished Lesson

An Unfinished Lesson

2020-03-2349:2436

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.
Panic In The Street

Panic In The Street

2020-03-1626:2016

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.
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Comments (751)

Mohammad I. Nassiri

your podcast is unimaginably great, thank you so much for what you have produced. also, I was so so much happy when you appreciated Lewis's work for his caring characteristics for youths.

Jul 10th
Reply (1)

Saeed Nazarian

great episode

Jul 9th
Reply

Chris Horton

Quote an interesting and thoughtful story.

Jul 7th
Reply

Shilan G

this episode wasone of your best! Thank you so much, I really enjoyed it and learned from it.

Jul 7th
Reply

Heidi Moffett

They forgot to account for medical debt.

Jun 24th
Reply

Marcel France

I'm sorry this guy was definitely mistreated and it never should have happened, but the irony of a man feeling degraded by being stripped and bent over when one of his favorite songs degrade every woman by singing about them being stripped and bent over. it's too much

Jun 22nd
Reply

Julian Benabides

LOVE this episode. please keep the good stuff coming!

Jun 17th
Reply

soheil jamshidian

there is one simple and plausible solution. bann the gun sale

Jun 14th
Reply

Kareem Easley

much needed part 2. the balance of playing favorites as a way of doing good is real. there is a bit of a tone of chastisement at this calling it a form of prejudice, which I don't agree with. Also, I would like to offer there is no wrong answer to the "trolley problem". utilitarians seem to me to be people who are unable to switch to critical thinking when needed.

Jun 11th
Reply

Karen Thurston

very informative, I wonder why Indian families who choose to educate just one child why that child and that chikd's children don't contribute to education of their extended family members?

Jun 9th
Reply

Kareem Easley

this guy makes specific illogical arguments that infer judgement an clear cut choices that are impossible to know or measure in the moment. Neither should 1 specific judgement apply broadly or collectively into how individuals govern themselves. I would love to hear him argue his points without "what if"s or emotionally charged in the moment examples to prove the need for cold logic. ridiculous.

Jun 2nd
Reply (5)

Jay Willow's

sounds like DID.

Jun 1st
Reply

Mohit Agarwal

Wow this is really miraculous

May 31st
Reply

Weather or Not

you are great. i will.reflect on how you and a select few of your podcasting commrades have become my friends advisers and validators. someti.ws you even challenge my own values. thank you.

May 30th
Reply

John Bock

Here is a comment since there weren't any.

May 29th
Reply

Oscar Obians

This is just full of demonic new age stuff

May 19th
Reply

Analise LaRue

thanks, that was pretty thoughtful.

May 18th
Reply

Upamanyu Kaushik

Beautifully transcribed intro words. Seldom the path we choose lead us to where we are. It's the intervening synapses that mostly give us the righteous decision to our desire and fulfillment.

May 17th
Reply

Jones

Maybe it’s the “American” in me but, wtf. I’m not letting my doctor decide that he’s just gonna kill my child if he deems it unfit. He didn’t carry or will have to raise the child.

May 11th
Reply

Liam Flow

it was lovely and i feel very validated, i say to my friends the reason I'm so joyful is gratitude and servitude. each day i take 5 minutes at the end of the day to write down everything i am grateful for. i also look out each day, to give, to serve and i agree with his thoughts on that, it's little moments and its presence. doing these two things daily makes me the funnest person with a chronic, limiting illness. shift your focus and your whole world shifts 🙏

May 3rd
Reply
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