Podcasts | Science & Medicine
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.