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Shankar Vedantam 2017

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 Behaviorcolumn 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.

  • If you listen closely to giggles, guffaws, and polite chuckles, you can discern a huge amount of information about people and their relationships with each other. This week, we talk with neuroscientist Sophie Scott about the many shades of laughter, from cackles of delight among close friends to the "canned" mirth of TV laugh tracks.
  • Judy, Lyn and Donna Ulrich were driving to a volleyball game when their Ford Pinto was hit from behind by a Chevy van. The Pinto caught fire, and the three teenagers were burned to death. This week on Hidden Brain, we talk to a former Ford insider who could have voted to recall the Pinto years before the Ulrich girls were killed — but didn't. And we ask, is it possible to fairly evaluate our past actions when we know how things turned out?
  • If you've ever flown in economy class on a plane, you probably had to walk through the first class cabin to get to your seat. Maybe you noticed the extra leg room. The freshly-poured champagne. Maybe you were annoyed, or envious. Social psychologist Keith Payne says we tend to compare ourselves with those who have more than us, but rarely with those who have less. This week, we revisit our 2019 episode on the psychology of income inequality, and how perceptions of our own wealth shape our lives.
  • Some people are good at putting themselves in another person's shoes. Others may struggle to relate. But psychologist Jamil Zaki argues that empathy isn't a fixed trait. This week, in our final installment of You 2.0, we revisit a favorite episode about how to exercise our empathy muscles.
  • American culture is all about positive affirmations. Dream big! Shoot for the stars! But do positive fantasies actually help us achieve our goals? This week, as part of our You 2.0 summer series, we revisit a conversation with researcher Gabriele Oettingen about how we can make our goals more attainable.
  • Maya Shankar was well on her way to a career as a violinist when an injury closed that door. This week, as part of our annual You 2.0 series on personal growth and reinvention, we revisit our 2015 conversation with Maya, in which she shares how she found a new path forward after losing an identity she loved.
  • Some challenges feel insurmountable. But psychologist Emily Balcetis says the solutions are often right in front of our eyes. This week, as part of our annual series on personal growth and reinvention, Emily explains how we can harness our sight to affect our behavior.
  • In 1979, dubious psychological techniques were used to put a teenager behind bars for life. These flawed ideas may still be at play in other criminal cases.
  • There is great comfort in the familiar. It's one reason humans often flock to other people who share the same interests, laugh at the same jokes, hold the same political views. But familiar ground may not be the best place to cultivate creativity. Researchers have found that people with deep connections to those from other countries and cultures often see benefits in terms of their creative output. This week, we revisit a favorite 2018 episode about the powerful connection between the ideas we dream up and the people who surround us, and what it really takes to think outside the box.
  • How do you change someone's behavior? Most of us would point to education or persuasion. But what if the answer lies elsewhere? This week, we revisit a 2018 story about human nature and behavior change — a story that will take us on a journey from Budapest to the hills of Rwanda.