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Shankar Vedantam

Stories

  • Woman using a laptop computer in darkness with her hands illuminated by the computer screen isolated on black background
    Hidden Brain

    Close Enough: The Lure of Living Through Others

    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.

  • John Moore/Getty Images
    Hidden Brain

    Panic In The Street: How Psychology Shaped The Response To An Epidemic

    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.

  • caption: In the 1960s, demographers warned that we were on track for a global population explosion. That's not exactly what happened.
    Hidden Brain

    The Bomb That Didn't Explode: Why Our Fears About Population Growth Didn't Come True

    We know that we live in an ever-changing world, but one thing we often overlook is demographic change. Whether the world's population is growing or shrinking can affect many aspects of our lives, from the number of kids we have to the likelihood that we'll live to old age. This week on Hidden Brain, we explore how our planet's population is changing, and what that means for us in the century to come.

  • caption: In the mid-1940s, Riley Shepard was a rising talent as a singer. But he bounced from one music label to another, and never achieved stardom.
    Hidden Brain

    The Cowboy Philosopher: A Tale Of Obsession, Scams, And Family

    In 2009, an old man died in a California nursing home. His obituary included not just his given name, but a long list of the pseudonyms he'd been known to use. In this episode, which we originally released in 2019, we trace the life of Riley Shepard, a hillbilly musician, writer, small-time con man and, perhaps, a genius.

  • caption: Psychologists say we often have a hard time recognizing how much pressure we put on other people when we ask them for something.
    Hidden Brain

    The Influence You Have: Why We're Blind To Our Power Over Others

    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 explore a phenomenon that psychologists refer to as "egocentric bias," and look at how this bias can lead us astray.

  • caption: Dan Ariely has found that "what separates honest people from not-honest people is not necessarily character, it's opportunity."
    Hidden Brain

    Liar, Liar, Liar

    We all lie. 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. We spoke to him in March 2017.

  • A donkey and an elephant stare at each other across a chasm.
    Hidden Brain

    Passion Isn't Enough: The Rise Of 'Political Hobbyism' in the United States

    Many Americans feel an obligation to keep up with political news. But maybe we should be focusing our energies elsewhere. Political scientist Eitan Hersh says there's been a rise in "political hobbyism" in the United States. We treat politics like entertainment, following the latest updates like we follow our favorite sports teams. Instead, he says, we should think of politics as a way to acquire power and persuade our neighbors to back the issues we support.

  • caption: "Hang in there," Dr. Levy tells his new medical students. "This is going to work."
    Hidden Brain

    When Things Click: The Power Of Judgment-Free Learning

    There can be a lot of psychological noise involved in teaching. But what it we replaced all that mental clutter...with a click? This week, we bring you a 2018 episode exploring an innovative idea about how we learn. It will take us from a dolphin exhibit in Hawaii to a top teaching hospital in New York. It's about a method to quiet the noise that can turn learning into a minefield of misery.

  • A child's hand extends out to a chalk lining of a hand drawn on a wall.
    Hidden Brain

    Secret Friends: Tapping Into The Power Of Imagination

    Where is the line between what is real and what is imaginary? It seems like an easy question to answer: if you can see it, hear it, or touch it, then it's real, right? But what if this way of thinking is limiting one of the greatest gifts of the mind? This week, we meet people who experience the invisible as real, and learn how they hone their imaginations to see the world with new eyes.