Hidden Brain

Hidden Brain

Shankar Vedantam uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships.


April 8, 2024 50 mins

Anthropologist Tom Pearson was devastated after his daughter Michaela was diagnosed with Down syndrome. When he began to examine that emotional response, he found himself wrestling with questions that have roiled his field for decades. Early anthropologists would often compare people of different backgrounds and abilities, asking questions like: How is one group different from another? Which one is stronger or smarter? And how do w...

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If you've ever taken an economics class, you were probably taught that people are rational. But about 50 years ago, the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky began to chip away at this basic assumption. In doing so, they transformed our understanding of human behavior. This week, we remember Kahneman, who recently died at the age of 90, by revisiting our 2018 and 2021 conversations with him. 

If you enjoyed this look at the...

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March 25, 2024 49 mins

Have you ever sat across from your spouse, colleague or friend and realized that while they may be hearing what you're saying, they aren't actually listening? Poor listening can lead to arguments, hurt feelings, and fractured relationships. But the good news is that active, thoughtful listening can profoundly benefit both people in the conversation. This week on the show, psychologist Guy Itzchakov helps us understand where interac...

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March 18, 2024 49 mins

Many of us believe we know how we’d choose to die. We have a sense of how we’d respond to a diagnosis of an incurable illness. This week, we revisit a 2019 episode featuring one family’s decades-long conversation about dying. What they found is that the people we are when death is far in the distance may not be the people we become when death is near.

If you enjoyed today's episode, here are some more classic Hidden Brain episodes y...

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March 11, 2024 49 mins

A little more than a decade ago, researchers began tracking an alarming trend: a dramatic uptick in anxiety and depression among young Americans. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, like many other researchers, says the increase is related to our use of social media and devices. But he believes it’s also deeper than that — connected to our deepest moral beliefs and how they shape the way we view the world. He says there are simple steps w...

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March 4, 2024 51 mins

Fear is a normal and healthy response to things that may harm us. But fear can also hold us back from doing the things we want to do. This week, we talk to psychiatrist and neuroscientist Arash Javanbakht about the psychology of fear — how it helps us, how it hurts us, and what we can do to harness it.

For more on the science of fear and anxiety, including how you can overcome it, check out our episode A Better Way to Worry.


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February 26, 2024 52 mins

Over the past few weeks, we've been exploring the psychology of partisanship, and how to effectively handle disagreements with those around us. This week, we conclude our US 2.0 series by turning to the past. We talk with journalist Steve Inskeep about how one of the most important leaders in American history — Abraham Lincoln — grappled with the pressing moral question of his time. When, if ever, is it worth compromising your own ...

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February 19, 2024 49 mins

We typically divide the country into two distinct groups: Democrats and Republicans. But what if the real political divide in our country isn’t between “left” and “right”? What if it’s between those who care intensely about politics, and those who don’t? This week, we bring you a favorite 2020 conversation with political scientist Yanna Krupnikov, who offers an alternative way to understand Americans’ political views.

For more of ou...

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February 12, 2024 52 mins

Conflicts are inevitable — both at a global scale and in our personal lives. This week, in the latest in our US 2.0 series, psychologist Peter Coleman explains how minor disagreements turn into major rifts, and how we can defuse even the most salient of disputes in our lives.

Interested in learning more?

For additional ideas about how to keep conflict from spiraling, check out our conversation with researcher Julia Minson. And for a ...

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February 5, 2024 48 mins

There's a saying that's attributed to the Dalai Lama: in the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher. It's a nice idea, but in reality, when people don't share our values, it's hard for us to tolerate theirs. This week, we talk with sociologist Robb Willer about the common mistakes we make in trying to persuade others of our point of view — and how we can break out of our echo chambers.

Did you catch last week's kick-...

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January 29, 2024 50 mins

The United States, we’re told, is increasingly a house divided. Conservatives and progressives are so alienated from each other that conversation is virtually impossible. But are we really as divided as we’re led to believe? As we begin what promises to be a pivotal election season, we're kicking off a new series about how we form our political beliefs. We're calling it "US 2.0." We begin with psychologist Kurt Gray, who studies ho...

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January 22, 2024 49 mins

We rely on our memory to understand the world. But what if our memories aren't true? This week, we talk to psychologist Elizabeth Loftus about the malleability of memory — what we remember, and what we think we remember.

For more on the science of memory, including how you can strengthen your own ability to recall information, check out our episodes Remember More, Forget Less and Did That Really Happen?

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January 15, 2024 48 mins

We spend more and more of our lives staring at screens. Our cellphones, smartwatches and laptops allow us to communicate instantly with people across the globe, and quickly look up obscure facts. But our digital devices are also altering our brains in profound ways. This week, psychologist Gloria Mark explores how our ability to focus is shrinking, and offers ways to protect our minds in a world filled with endless distractions.


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January 8, 2024 50 mins

Most of us feel that our emotions are reactions to those outside of us. Someone cuts us off in traffic, and we say that the other driver made us upset. A friend brings over food when we're sick, and we say the friend offered us comfort. But psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett argues that our feelings are not, in fact, responses to the world — they're really predictions about the world. And she says we can exercise ...

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January 1, 2024 51 mins

When we're learning, or trying new things, mistakes are inevitable. Some of these mistakes provide us with valuable information, while others are just harmful. This week, we kick off the new year with researcher Amy Edmondson, who explains the difference between constructive failures and those we should try to avoid. 

If you know someone who would enjoy this episode, please share it with them. And thanks for listening! We look forwa...

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December 25, 2023 50 mins

Humans have wrestled with questions about identity and purpose for millennia. So it’s no surprise that the insights of people who lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago have stood the test of time. This week, philosopher Tamar Gendler explores how three great thinkers from ancient Greece understood the human psyche, and what we can still learn from their wisdom today.

If you know someone who would enjoy this episode, please s...

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December 18, 2023 49 mins

When was the last time you set a goal and struggled to reach it? Perhaps you're trying to write a novel but can't seem to get started. Or maybe you want to master a sport, but you keep making the same mistakes over and over again. This week, organizational psychologist Adam Grant guides us through the science of human potential, and teaches us how to uncover our own abilities.

If you love Hidden Brain, please consider joining Hidden...

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December 11, 2023 50 mins

We like to tell kids, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But from a very early age, we humans are doing just that — judging others based on how they look. This week, we bring you the second part of our look at the science of beauty and talk with psychologists Vivian Zayas and Stefanie Johnson about how appearances can often lead us astray.

If you haven't yet heard the first episode in this series, be sure to check it out! It's calle...

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December 4, 2023 49 mins

Think about the last time you were struck by a gorgeous painting in a museum, or heard a song that brought you to tears. All of us know what it’s like to be stopped in our tracks by a beautiful sight. But scientists are still puzzling over why this is the case. What’s the point of beauty? Why is it seemingly so important to us? This week on the show, neuroscientist Anjan Chatterjee explains the function of beauty in our daily lives...

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November 27, 2023 49 mins

Why is it so hard to say 'I'm sorry?' In the final episode of our Healing 2.0 series, 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 liked this episode, check out the rest of our Healing 2.0 series. And if you know someone who would benefit from the ideas we explored in this series, please share t...

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