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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.

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    • Nov 29, 2021 LATEST EPISODE
    • weekdays NEW EPISODES
    • 36m AVG DURATION
    • 364 EPISODES


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    Latest episodes from Hidden Brain

    Work 2.0: The One-Room Commute

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 29, 2021 48:43

    If you're 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.” In the final episode of our Work 2.0 series, economist Nicholas Bloom joins us from his spare bedroom to ponder whether working from home is actually working. If you like this show, please check out our new podcast, My Unsung Hero! And if you'd like to support our work, you can do so at support.hiddenbrain.org. 

    My Unsung Hero: Tony Ludlow

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 24, 2021 5:19

    Tony is angry at his English teacher, Mrs. Holman, for making him stay after class. But on the last day of school, she takes his hand, and tells him something he'll never forget.To hear more stories like this, subscribe, and enjoy!

    Work 2.0: Rebel with a Cause

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 22, 2021 48:45


    Francesca Gino studies rebels - people who practice "positive deviance" and achieve incredible feats of imagination. They know how and when to break rules that should be broken. So how can you activate your own inner non-conformist? This week, we ponder the traits of successful rebels as we revisit our 2018 conversation with Francesca.  If you like this show, please check out our new podcast, My Unsung Hero! And if you'd like to support our work, you can do so at support.hiddenbrain.org. 


    Work 2.0: Life, Interrupted

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 15, 2021 50:17


    Many of us spend our workdays responding to a never-ending stream of emails and texts. We feel stressed out and perpetually behind on our to-do list. But what if there was a better way to work? This week, we revisit a favorite conversation about "deep work" with computer scientist Cal Newport. And we'll visit a lab that's studying whether brain stimulation can improve our ability to handle multitasking and interruptions.  If you like this show, please check out our new podcast, My Unsung Hero! And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.  


    My Unsung Hero: Terri Powers' Story

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 12, 2021 4:24

    Today we're sharing another episode of our new podcast, My Unsung Hero. To hear more stories like this, subscribe, and enjoy! It's a few days after her mother's death, and Terri Powers is at the checkout line in a grocery store. As she turns to leave, the bagger stops her, and asks a question.  

    Work 2.0: Game on!

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 8, 2021 53:17

    The world of play and the world of work are often seen as opposites. But they may have more in common than we think. In the second installment of our new Work 2.0 series, Ethan Mollick makes the case that we can make our jobs more engaging by incorporating elements of games.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter atnews.hiddenbrain.org.

    Work 2.0: The Obstacles You Don't See

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 1, 2021 50:16

    Introducing new ideas is hard. Most of us think the best way to win people over is to push harder. But organizational psychologist Loran Nordgren says a more effective approach is to focus on the invisible obstacles to new ideas.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter atnews.hiddenbrain.org.

    We Broke the Planet. Now What?

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 25, 2021 48:35

    We've grown accustomed to viewing climate change as an enemy we must urgently defeat. But is that the right metaphor for the greatest existential problem of our time? This week, we consider how to reframe the way we think about life on a changing planet.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter atnews.hiddenbrain.org.

    My Unsung Hero: Rick Mangnall's Story

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 22, 2021 5:31

    Today we're sharing another episode of our new podcast, My Unsung Hero. Subscribe, and enjoy! In 2008, while driving to work, Rick Mangnall crashes into a slab of granite rock. He's hanging upside down in his seatbelt when he sees an old Ford truck pull over across the road.

    The Halo Effect

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 18, 2021 53:11

    In 1978, Judy, Lyn and Donna Ulrich were driving to a volleyball game when their Ford Pinto was hit from behind by a van. The Pinto caught fire, and the three teenagers died. This week, we revisit a 2020 episode with a former Ford insider who played a key role in weighing the risks associated with the Pinto. And we consider what his story tells us about a question we all face: is it possible to fairly evaluate our past actions when we know how things turned out? If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter atnews.hiddenbrain.org.

    Being Kind to Yourself

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 11, 2021 51:53


    Self-criticism is often seen as a virtue. But psychologist Kristin Neff says there's a better path to self-improvement — self-compassion. She says people who practice self-compassion are more conscientious and more likely to take responsibility for their mistakes. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter atnews.hiddenbrain.org.


    My Unsung Hero: Jackie Briggs' Story

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 8, 2021 5:53

    My Unsung Hero is here! We're excited to share one of the first episodes of our new podcast. Episode one features listener Jackie Briggs from Portland, Oregon. In 2006, a stranger noticed an unusual mark on Jackie's arm, and realized something was wrong. You can subscribe to My Unsung Hero here.

    When You Need It To Be True

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 4, 2021 54:18

    When we want something very badly, it can be hard to see warning signs that might be obvious to other people. This week, we bring you two stories about how easy it can be to believe in a false reality — even when the facts don't back us up.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help atsupport.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.  

    Passion Isn't Enough

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 27, 2021 47:54

    Many Americans feel an obligation to keep up with political news. But maybe we should be focusing our energies elsewhere. In this episode from 2020, 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.

    Introducing My Unsung Hero

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 24, 2021 2:50

    Longtime Hidden Brain listeners know that for years, we've thanked an unsung hero at the end of every episode. Now, we're launching a new show inspired by that tradition. Each week, we'll share a short story about a moment when one person helped another in a time of need. And we'll show you how these acts of heroism — some big, some small — transformed someone's life. 

    Group Think

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 20, 2021 50:02

    How do the groups you identify with shape your sense of self? Do they influence the beer you buy? The way you vote? Psychologist Jay Van Bavel says our group loyalties affect us more than we realize, and can even shape our basic senses of sight, taste and smell.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help atsupport.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    Just Sex

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 13, 2021 23:58

    Casual sex typically isn't about love. But what if it's not even about lust? Sociologist Lisa Wade studies "hookup culture," and believes the rules and expectations around sex and relationships are different for college students today than they were for previous generations. This week we revisit our 2017 conversation with Wade, and consider how the pandemic may be changing students' views on hookups and intimacy. 

    casual sociologist lisa wade
    Where Happiness Hides

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 6, 2021 49:57


    We all think we know what will make us happy: more money. A better job. Love. But psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky says happiness doesn't necessarily work like that. This week, we explore why happiness often slips through our fingers, and how to savor — and stretch out — our joys.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.  


    You 2.0: Regrets, I Have a Few...

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 30, 2021 28:47

    We all have regrets. By some estimates, regret is one of the most common emotions we experience in our daily lives. In the final episode of our You 2.0 series, we bring you a favorite interview with Amy Summerville, the former head of the Regret Lab at Miami University in Ohio. After years of studying this emotion, she says she's learned something that may seem counterintuitive: regret doesn't always have to be a negative force in our lives.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    You 2.0: Did That Really Happen?

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 23, 2021 48:26

    Our memories are easily contaminated. We can be made to believe we rode in a hot air balloon or kissed a magnifying glass — even if those things never happened. So how do we know which of our memories are most accurate? This week, psychologist Ayanna Thomas explains how we remember, why we forget, and the simple tools we all can use to sharpen our memories.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    You 2.0: When Did Marriage Become So Hard?

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 16, 2021 50:09

    Marriage is hard — and there are signs it's becoming even harder. In the third episode of our You 2.0 summer series, we examine how long-term relationships have changed over time, and whether we might be able to improve marriage by asking less of it.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    You 2.0: In the Heat of the Moment

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 9, 2021 51:50

    In a fit of anger or in the grip of fear, many of us make decisions that we never would have anticipated. As part of our You 2.0 summer series, we look at situations that make us strangers to ourselves — and why it's so difficult to remember what these "hot states" feel like once the moment is over. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    Cultivating Your Purpose

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 2, 2021 51:02

    Having a sense of purpose can be a buffer against the challenges we all face at various stages of life. Purpose can also boost our health and longevity. In the kick-off to our annual You 2.0 series, Cornell University psychologist Anthony Burrow explains why purpose isn't something to be found — it's something we can develop from within. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    Losing Alaska

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 26, 2021 24:23

    As floods, wildfires, and heatwaves hit many parts of the world, signs of climate change seem to be all around us. Scientists have been warning us for years about the looming threat of a warming planet. And yet it's really hard for many of us to wrap our minds around this existential challenge. Why is that? This week, we bring you a favorite episode about why our brains struggle to grasp the dangers of global climate change.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    Stage Fright

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 19, 2021 52:15

    The pressure. The expectations. The anxiety. If there's one thing that connects the athletes gathering for the Olympic games with the rest of us, it's the stress that can come from performing in front of others. In this week's episode, we talk with cognitive scientist Sian Beilock about why so many of us crumble under pressure –– and what we can do about it. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    Playing the Gender Card

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 12, 2021 49:48

    What is it like to be the only woman at the (poker) table? Or a rare man in a supposedly "feminine" career? In this favorite episode from 2019, we tell the stories of two people who grappled with gender stereotypes on the job, and consider how such biases can shape our career choices.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    You, But Better

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 5, 2021 50:24

    Think about the resolutions you made this year: to quit smoking, eat better, or get more exercise. If you're like most people, you probably abandoned those resolutions within a few weeks. That's because change is hard. Behavioral scientist Katy Milkman explains how we can use our minds to do what's good for us. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    The Influence You Have

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 28, 2021 50:34

    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 revisit a favorite episode about a phenomenon known as "egocentric bias," and look at how this bias can lead us astray.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    What Twins Tell Us

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 24, 2021 28:23

    In December 1988, two sets of identical twins became test subjects in a study for which they had never volunteered. It was an experiment that could never be performed in a lab, and had never before been documented. This week, we revisit this fascinating story, told by psychologist Nancy Segal, about the eternal tug between nature and nurture in shaping who we are. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    The Power of Apologies

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 21, 2021 49:39

    Why is it so hard to say 'I'm sorry?' In part two of our series on forgiveness and apologies, we talk with psychologist Tyler Okimoto about the mental barriers that keep us from admitting when we've done something wrong, as well as the transformative power of apologies. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    The Power of Mercy

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 14, 2021 48:56

    Granting forgiveness for the wrongs done to us can be one of the hardest things we face in life. But forgiveness can also be transformative. In the first of a two-part series on apologies and mercy, we talk with psychologist Charlotte Witvliet about the benefits of forgiveness, for both the mind and the body.   If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 

    What Are The Odds?

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 11, 2021 29:26

    Coincidences can feel like magic. When we realize that a co-worker shares our birthday or run into a college roommate while on vacation, it can give us a surge of delight. Today, we revisit a favorite episode about these moments of serendipity. Mathematician Joseph Mazur explains why coincidences aren't as unlikely as we think they are, and psychologist Nicholas Epley tells us why we can't help but find meaning in them anyway. 

    This is Your Brain on Ads

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 7, 2021 48:47

    Have you ever opened your computer with the intention of sending one email — only to spend an hour scrolling through social media? Maybe two hours? In this favorite episode from our archives, we look at how media, tech, and entertainment companies hijack our attention. Plus, we consider how the commercials we saw as children continue to shape our behavior as adults.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 

    Why We Hold On To Things

    Play Episode Listen Later May 31, 2021 45:45

    What do the things you own say about who you are? Psychologist Bruce Hood studies our relationship with our possessions – from beloved childhood objects to the everyday items we leave behind. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 

    Loss and Renewal

    Play Episode Listen Later May 24, 2021 26:06

    No matter how hard we work, we won’t always achieve the goals we set for ourselves. When cognitive scientist Maya Shankar was a girl, she wanted to be a concert violinist. Then an injury forced her to imagine her life anew. This week, we revisit a favorite episode from 2015 with Maya. She’s now the host of a new podcast, A Slight Change of Plans. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 

    Tribes and Traitors

    Play Episode Listen Later May 21, 2021 31:07

    In the past weeks, headlines around the world have focused on the violent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. In this favorite episode from our archive, we hear from a former Israeli soldier and a Palestinian man who asked a radical question: what happens when you empathize with your enemy?  They found that showing such empathy can be powerful — but also carries risks.  If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 

    Our Noisy Minds

    Play Episode Listen Later May 17, 2021 48:40

    Psychologist Daniel Kahneman says there are invisible factors that distort our judgment. He calls these factors “noise.” The consequences can be found in everything from marriage proposals to medical diagnoses and prison sentences. This week on Hidden Brain, we consider how to identify noise in the world, and in our own lives. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 

    The Fake Bride

    Play Episode Listen Later May 10, 2021 53:35

    Have you ever felt as if someone else was writing your personal narrative? Controlling what you do, shaping how you act? This week on Hidden Brain, we bring you a surreal tale about a woman who became a reluctant character in someone else’s love story. If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org. 

    Josh Gitelson: My Unsung Hero

    Play Episode Listen Later May 7, 2021 3:13

    At the end of every episode, we take a moment to thank an Unsung Hero: someone who’s not on the staff of the show, but who went above and beyond in helping us out. In recent weeks, we've been asking you to share your own examples of someone who's made an impact on your life. This time, Josh Gitelson of State College, Pa., recalls a small gesture of kindness from a stranger on a plane. Do you have a story of an unsung hero you want to share with our listeners? Tell us about it! Please email us at ideas@hiddenbrain.org, with the subject line "Unsung Hero." For some guidelines on what we're looking for, go to hiddenbrain.org/unsunghero.

    One Head, Two Brains

    Play Episode Listen Later May 3, 2021 49:31

    Your brain is divided in two: a left hemisphere and a right hemisphere. In this 2019 episode of Hidden Brain, we dive into Iain McGilchrist's research on how the left and right hemispheres shape our perceptions. Iain argues that differences in the brain — and Western society's preference for what one hemisphere has to offer — have had enormous effects on our lives.

    Deb Pierce: My Unsung Hero

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 30, 2021 4:34

    In every episode of Hidden Brain, we thank an Unsung Hero — a colleague, a friend or a family member who has helped make our work possible from behind the scenes. Recently, we asked you to tell us about your own unsung heroes. This week, Deb Pierce of Newton, MA, remembers the woman who showed up at one of the hardest moments in her life.

    Why Conversations Go Wrong

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 26, 2021 52:06

    Do you ever struggle to communicate with your mom? Or feel like you and your spouse sometimes speak different languages? We talk with linguist Deborah Tannen about how our conversational styles can cause unintended conflicts, and what we can do to communicate more effectively with the people in our lives. If you like our work, please try to support us! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. To learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org

    Unsung Hero: A Cold Nevada Night

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 23, 2021 4:21

    In every episode of Hidden Brain, we thank an Unsung Hero. Many listeners have written to say they love this segment, even sharing their own Unsung Heroes. Today, we're sharing one of those stories with you. 

    Humor Us

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 19, 2021 52:03


    Hahaha! The average four-year-old child laughs 300 times a day. By contrast, it takes more than two months for the average 40-year-old adult to laugh that many times. This week, we talk with behavioral scientist Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University about why so many of us fall off a “humor cliff” as we become adults. Plus, how we can inject more laughter into our lives, even during the most difficult of times. 


    An Unfinished Lesson

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 12, 2021 49:26

    More than a century ago, millions of people around the world died in a massive influenza pandemic. The so-called "Spanish flu" outbreak of 1918 revealed a truth about viruses: they don't just infect us biologically. They also detect fissures in societies and fault lines between communities. Historian Nancy Bristow says this remains true today, as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.This week, we revisit our 2020 conversation with Bristow, and consider what history can tell us about human behavior during public health crises. 

    Useful Delusions

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 5, 2021 49:36

    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.

    Made of Honor

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 29, 2021 48:45

    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.   

    stories hidden brain made of honor
    The Story of Your Life

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 22, 2021 51:14

    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.   

    The Story of Stories

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 15, 2021 51:23

    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.

    Radically Normal

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 9, 2021 50:06

    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.

    The Snowball Effect

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 1, 2021 54:36

    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.

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