Show cover of 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.


Our God-Shaped Brains
Some think of religious faith as just that: a leap of faith. But psychologists are increasingly filling in the gaps in our understanding of how beliefs shape — and are shaped by — the human mind. This week, psychologist Ara Norenzayan explores features in the brain that are tied to our capacity for faith. And he shows how all of us, both religious and non-religious people, can use this knowledge to find more meaning in our lives.For more of our reporting on religion and the mind, be sure to check out our episode "Creating God." 
50:18 17/06/2024
Why You Feel Empty
Have you ever had an unexplainable feeling of emptiness? Life seems perfect - and yet - something is missing. This week, sociologist Corey Keyes helps us understand where feelings of emptiness come from, how to navigate them and why they're more common than we might assume.If you missed it, make sure to listen to last week's episode on Why Trying Too Hard Can Backfire On You. Thanks for listening!
49:40 10/06/2024
Why Trying Too Hard Can Backfire On You
Thinking is a human superpower. On a daily basis, thinking and planning and effort bring us innumerable benefits. But like all aspects of human behavior, you can sometimes get too much of a good thing. This week, we talk with philosopher Ted Slingerland about techniques to prevent overthinking, and how we can cultivate the under-appreciated skill of letting go. To hear more of our conversation with Ted Slingerland, be sure to check out our Hidden Brain+ episode with him, available now. You can join Hidden Brain+ via Patreon or Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening! 
52:17 03/06/2024
Innovation 2.0: Do Less
The human drive to invent new things has led to pathbreaking achievements in medicine, science and society. But our desire to create can keep us from seeing one of the most powerful paths to progress: subtraction. In a favorite conversation from 2022, engineer Leidy Klotz shares how streamlining and simplifying is sometimes the best path to innovation. Today's episode concludes our Innovation 2.0 series. If you've enjoyed these episodes, please tell a friend about them! They can find all of the stories in this series in this podcast feed, or at Thanks for listening! 
46:11 27/05/2024
Innovation 2.0: Shortcuts and Speed Bumps
Most of us love to brainstorm with colleagues. But so often, our idea-generating sessions don't lead to anything tangible. Teams fill up walls with sticky notes about creative possibilities and suggestions for improvement, but nothing actually gets implemented. Some researchers even have a name for it: "innovation theater." This week, we explore the science of execution. Psychologist Bob Sutton tells us how to move from innovation theater . . . to actual innovation.You can find all the episodes in our Innovation 2.0 series in this podcast feed, or on our website, 
49:10 20/05/2024
Innovation 2.0: The Influence You Have
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 continue our Innovation 2.0 series with a 2020 episode about a phenomenon known as as “egocentric bias.” We talk with psychologist Vanessa Bohns about how this bias leads us astray, and how we can use this knowledge to ask for the things we need. Did you catch the first two episodes in our Innovation 2.0 series? You can find them in this podcast feed or on our website. And if you're enjoying this series, please share it with a friend or family member. Thanks! 
52:04 13/05/2024
Innovation 2.0: Multiplying the Growth Mindset
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt that people wrote you off? Maybe a teacher suggested you weren't talented enough to take a certain class, or a boss implied that you didn't have the smarts needed to handle a big project. In the latest in our "Innovation 2.0 series," we talk with Mary Murphy, who studies what she calls "cultures of genius." We'll look at how these cultures can keep people and organizations from thriving, and how we can create environments that better foster our growth.Do you know someone who'd find the ideas in today's episode to be useful? Please share it with them! And if you liked today's conversation, you might also like these classic Hidden Brain episodes:  The Edge EffectThe Secret to Great TeamsDream Jobs
52:10 06/05/2024
Innovation 2.0: How Big Ideas Are Born
Why is it so hard to guess where we're meant to be? To predict where we'll end up? Nearly all of us have had the experience of traveling down one road, only to realize it's not the road for us. At the University of Virginia, Saras Sarasvathy uses the lens of entrepreneurship to study how we plan and prepare for the future. We kick off our new "Innovation 2.0" series by talking with Saras about how we pursue goals and make decisions.Do you know someone who might benefit from our conversation with Saras about expert entrepreneurs? Please share it with them if so! And be sure to check out our other conversations about how to get out of ruts and figure out a path forward: Who Do You Want to Be?You 2.0 : How to Break Out of a Rut
50:18 29/04/2024
Parents: Keep Out!
If you're a parent or a teacher, you've probably wondered how to balance play and safety for the kids in your care. You don't want to put children in danger, but you also don't want to rob them of the joy of exploration. This week, we talk with psychologist Peter Gray about how this balance has changed — for parents and children alike — and what we can do about it.For more of our reporting on children and parents, check out these classic Hidden Brain episodes:Kinder-GardeningBringing Up Baby  
53:40 22/04/2024
The Curious Science of Cravings
We've all had those days when all we want is a little treat. Maybe it's a bag of chips, an ice cream sundae or a glass of wine. But sometimes, these desires become all-consuming. This week on the show, psychiatrist Judson Brewer helps us understand the science of cravings, and how we should respond to them. If you liked today's conversation, be sure to check out other Hidden Brain episodes about ways to regain a feeling of control over your life: Creatures of Habit and Taking Control of Your Time.
49:05 15/04/2024
What Is Normal?
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 we understand people who don’t fit our expectations? This week, we talk with Pearson about his family’s story, and the evolution of our thinking on disability and difference.If you liked today's show, be sure to check out these classic Hidden Brain episodes:"Emma, Carrie, Vivian""Why You're Smarter than You Think" 
50:54 08/04/2024
The Transformative Ideas of Daniel Kahneman
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 work of Daniel Kahneman, you might also enjoy our conversations about behavioral economics with Kahneman's friend and collaborator Richard Thaler: Misbehaving with Richard Thaler Follow the Anomalies 
98:05 01/04/2024
Are You Listening?
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 interactions go awry, and how to become a more attentive listener. For more of our work on how to better connect with the people in your life, check out these episodes: Why Conversations Go Wrong with Deborah TannenA Secret Source of Connection with Amit KumarRelationships 2.0: What Makes Relationships Thrive with Harry ReisRelationships 2.0: How to Keep Conflict from Spiraling with Julia Minson  
49:41 25/03/2024
The Ventilator
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 you might like:The Cowboy PhilosopherWhen You Need It To Be True Me, Myself, and Ikea Thanks for listening! 
49:34 18/03/2024
Escaping the Matrix
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 we can take to improve the mental health of kids growing up in the smartphone era.For more of our work on how technology is shaping our lives, check out our two-part series "The Paradox of Pleasure" and "The Path to Enough."  And don't miss our classic episode on social media, "Screaming into the Void."
49:59 11/03/2024
Fear Less
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. 
51:51 04/03/2024
US 2.0: Lincoln's Dilemma
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 principles for the sake of greater progress?If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to check out our 2018 conversation about Thomas Jefferson with historian Annette Gordon-Reed. It's the episode called "A Founding Contradiction" in this podcast feed, or you can listen on our website.  
52:13 26/02/2024
US 2.0: Not at the Dinner Table
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 our reporting on the intersection between politics and psychology, check out our episode about political hobbyism. You might also like this classic episode about how we come to our political values and beliefs. Thanks for listening! 
49:29 19/02/2024
US 2.0: Living With Our Differences
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 look at how violence shapes political outcomes on a global scale, be sure to listen to our interview with political scientist Erica Chenoweth. 
52:44 12/02/2024
US 2.0: Win Hearts, Then Minds
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-off to our US 2.0 series? You can find it in this podcast feed, and here.  
48:32 05/02/2024
US 2.0: What We Have In Common
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 how we think about our political allies and  opponents — and how these insights can help us to chart a new path forward. Have you tried to talk with someone who disagrees with you about politics? Have you found effective ways to get through? If you’d be willing to share your stories with the Hidden Brain audience,  along with any questions you have for Kurt Gray, please record a voice memo and email it to us at Use the subject line “politics.”  And thanks!
50:35 29/01/2024
Are Your Memories Real?
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? 
49:50 22/01/2024
Finding Focus
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.Want more suggestions on how to stay focused in a distracting world? Here are a few additional episodes to check out:You 2.0: Deep WorkTaking Control of Your TimeAnd if you love Hidden Brain, please consider joining Hidden Brain+, our podcast subscription! You can find it on Apple Podcasts, or by clicking  here. 
48:29 15/01/2024
Where Do Feelings Come From?
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 more control over those predictions than we realize.Did you know that Hidden Brain now has an app? You can download it and try out our first game — designed to help you sharpen your facial recognition skills — here.  
50:17 08/01/2024
Making the Most of Your Mistakes
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 forward to bringing you many new Hidden Brain episodes in 2024. 
51:46 01/01/2024
What Would Socrates Do?
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 share it with them. And thanks for listening! We look forward to bringing you many new Hidden Brain episodes in 2024. 
50:27 25/12/2023
How to Believe in Yourself
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 Brain+, our podcast subscription! You can find it on Apple Podcasts, or by clicking  here.  
49:43 18/12/2023
The Ugly Side of Beauty
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 called "The Mystery of Beauty," and you can find it in this podcast feed, or on our website. 
50:54 11/12/2023
The Mystery of Beauty
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. Then, Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek describes how beauty served a purpose in some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of our time.In case you missed it, make sure to listen to the last installment of our Healing 2.0 series, The Power of Apologies. Plus, if you're looking for a holiday gift for the Hidden Brain fan in your life, be sure to check out our online shop for mugs, t-shirts, and more! 
49:04 04/12/2023
Healing 2.0: The Power of Apologies
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 these episodes with them. Thanks! 
49:40 27/11/2023

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