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Shankar Vedantam

Shankar Vedantam is NPR's social science correspondent and the host of Hidden Brain. The focus of his reporting is on human behavior and the social sciences, and how research in those fields can get listeners to think about the news in unusual and interesting ways. Hidden Brain is among the most popular podcasts in the world, with over two million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is featured on some 250 public radio stations across the United States.

Before joining NPR in 2011, Vedantam spent 10 years as a reporter at The Washington Post. From 2007 to 2009, he also wrote the Department of Human Behavior column for the Post.

Vedantam and Hidden Brain have been recognized with the Edward R. Murrow Award, and honors from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the International Society of Political Psychology, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Austen Riggs Center, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the Webby Awards, the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors, the South Asian Journalists Association, the Asian American Journalists Association, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, the American Public Health Association, the Templeton-Cambridge Fellowship on Science and Religion and the Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship.

From 2009 to 2010, Vedantam served as a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Vedantam is the author of the non-fiction book The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives. The book, published in 2010, describes how unconscious biases influence people.

Outside of journalism, Vedantam has written fiction and plays. His short story-collection, The Ghosts of Kashmir, was published in 2005. The previous year, the Brick Playhouse in Philadelphia produced his full-length comedy, Tom, Dick and Harriet.

Vedantam has served as a part-time lecturer at Harvard University and Columbia University. He has also served as a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington.

A while back, Jonah Berger was talking with a lawyer friend from Washington, D.C. The friend was lamenting the impact of social influence on his peers.

He was saying, "'God, you know, all D.C. lawyers are the same. They make it big, and they go out and they buy a new BMW.'

Many people start exploring their sexuality in college. The lessons they learn about intimacy and attraction during these years lay a foundation for the rest of their lives.

"I have students who have had sex many times drunk but have never held someone's hand," says Occidental University sociologist Lisa Wade.

After a disaster happens, we want to know, could something have been done to avoid it? Did anyone see this coming?

Many times, the answer is yes. There was a person — or many people — who spotted a looming crisis and tried to warn those in power. So why didn't the warnings lead to action?

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OK, so you have just hopped out of an Uber or a Lyft, for example. Let's say the ride has not really gone that well. You pop open the ride-sharing app to give a rating to the driver. You can choose anything from one to five stars. What you do next turns out to be subject to the laws of psychology.

New social science research reveals a bias among many raters that produces pernicious effects. To explain, we are joined by NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam. Hey, Shankar - pernicious effects.

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Paul Rozin has been studying the psychology and culture of food for more than 40 years. And he's come to appreciate that food fills many of our needs, but hunger is just one.

"Food is not just nutrition that goes in your mouth or even pleasant sensations that go with it," he says. "It connects to your whole life, and it's really a very important part of performing your culture and experiencing your culture."

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This story starts with a quiz. Here's your quizmaster, Noel King.

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Why Now?

Jul 27, 2018

Nearly a quarter century ago, a group of women accused a prominent playwright of sexual misconduct. A Boston newspaper published allegations of sexual harassment, unwanted touching and forced kissing. For the most part, the complaints went nowhere.

In 2017, more women came forward with accusations. This time, people listened.

On this episode of Hidden Brain, we explore the story through the lens of social science and ask, "Why Now?"

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If you've ever visited the palm-lined neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, you've probably noticed that the rich and famous aren't the only ones drawn there.

Stargazers also flock to this exclusive enclave, seeking a chance to peer into — and fantasize about — the lives of movie stars and film directors.

Call it adulation, adoration, idolization: we humans are fascinated by glamour and power.

But this turns out to be only one side of our psychology.

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Chaos is neither friend nor foe. It just is. This week: two very different perspectives on how to deal with life's most tumultuous moments.

We begin in 2015, in a poor slum in the West African country of Liberia. Police have just discovered a young man, dead and covered in stab wounds. Tests show he was infected with a terrifying disease that causes raging fever, severe internal bleeding, and kills up to 90 percent of the people it touches: Ebola.

After you read this sentence, pause for a moment to think back on advertisements you first heard when you were a child.

Perhaps you recall a favorite jingle or the catchphrase of a cereal mascot. You probably can remember more than just one.

On this week's radio replay, we look at the shelf life of commercials. According to University of Arizona researcher Merrie Brucks, an ad we watched when we were five years old can influence our buying behavior when we're fifty.

People who spend time with young children know firsthand the power of music.

It's easy entertainment.

And any teacher who works in early childhood will tell you that singing can yield amazing results. "If we didn't sing the cleanup song, I don't think anything would have gotten cleaned up," says Laura Cirelli, who worked as an assistant at a day care center in the late 2000s.

But there may be other ways — surprising ways — in which music plays a role in raising a human.

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It's one of the darkest chapters in recent history – in 1994, the Hutu-led government of Rwanda led a systematic campaign to wipe out members of the Tutsi minority. At first, the people participating were tied to the government—military leaders, local mayors and police. But soon, thousands of ordinary people were encouraged or bullied into taking part in the killing. Shopkeepers and farmers, fathers and husbands slaughtered their own friends and neighbors, using basic farm tools like hoes and machetes.

This week, we look at the language we use around race and religion, and what it says about the culture we live in.

Are you racist?

It's a question that makes most of us uncomfortable and defensive.

Harvard University psychologist Mahzarin Banaji says while most people don't feel they're racist, they likely carry unfavorable opinions about people of color — even if they are people of color themselves.

Banaji is one of the creators of the Implicit Association Test, a widely-used tool for measuring a person's implicit biases. She says it's important to acknowledge that the individual mind sits in society.

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What are the lives of the planet's wealthiest people really like?

Several years ago, sociologist Brooke Harrington decided to find out.

She knew she'd have a hard time gaining access to the world of the über wealthy, so she did something unusual: She took courses to become a wealth manager.

In the course of this training, Harrington met other wealth managers, who agreed to be interviewed for her research.

She discovered that, in order to manage money for the super-rich, these professionals learn a lot about the private lives of their clients.

No one will deny that marriage is hard. In fact, there's evidence it's getting even harder.

Eli Finkel, a social psychologist at Northwestern University, argues that's because our expectations of marriage have increased dramatically in recent decades.

"[A] marriage that would have been acceptable to us in the 1950s is a disappointment to us today because of those high expectations," he says.

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The Power Hour

Jan 23, 2018

If you've ever visited the palm-lined neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, you've probably noticed that the rich and famous aren't the only ones drawn there.

Stargazers also flock to this exclusive enclave, seeking a chance to peer into — and fantasize about — the lives of movie stars and film directors.

Call it adulation, adoration, idolization: we humans are fascinated by glamour and power.

But this turns out to be only one side of our psychology.

Fighting miscommunication might seem an ironic choice for an actor whose comedy career was built on all the funny consequences of people misunderstanding each other.

But Alan Alda has made it his mission to help scientists — and the rest of us — communicate better.

It all started when he was hosting the PBS interview program Scientific American Frontiers. He pushed himself, and the scientists he interviewed, to have conversations — to really listen to each other, to connect with each other, and to try to understand one another's perspective.

Our airwaves are filled with debates about immigrants and refugees. Who should be in the United States, who shouldn't, and who should decide?

These modern debates often draw upon our ideas about past waves of immigration. We sometimes assume that earlier generations of newcomers quickly learned English and integrated into American society. But historian Maria Cristina Garcia says these ideas are often false.

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