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Trying To Do Good

Image of two hands on a blue background. One hand is passing a plant with red flowers to the other hand.
Hanna Barczyk for NPR

It's always better to help someone than not, right?

We begin this episode in a virtual classroom. Several years ago Kellie Gillespie took an online course in social psychology, taught by Scott Plous of Wesleyan University. Hundreds of thousands of other people enrolled in the same online course.

Kellie and her classmates were exposed to psychological concepts such as the norm of reciprocity: if you're nice to someone, or you open up to them, they're likely to do the same with you. They also learned about the power of empathy: when you put yourself in someone else's shoes, the relationship you have with them profoundly changes.

The ideas in the course carried over into Kellie's life in London. Kellie was spending a lot of time at the British Library, and she often noticed the same young man on the street nearby. She could tell he was homeless. Her interactions with the man started simply, with Kellie giving him whatever spare change she had. But after a couple of months, she wanted to do more.

After we hear Kellie's story, we meet Don Laub, a surgeon who, in his words, wanted to "do a big thing, and help a lot of people."

His story is one of many triumphs — and a tragedy that he continues to dwell on many decades later.

This week on Hidden Brain,we explore two stories about people doing their best to do good in the world — and how their actions affected others around them.

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Parth Shah, Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Thomas Lu, and Laura Kwerel. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain , and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Rhaina Cohen is a producer and editor for NPR's Enterprise Storytelling unit, working across Embedded, Invisibilia, and Rough Translation.
Jennifer Schmidt is a senior producer for Hidden Brain. She is responsible for crafting the complex stories that are told on the show. She researches, writes, gathers field tape, and develops story structures. Some highlights of her work on Hidden Brain include episodes about the causes of the #MeToo movement, how diversity drives creativity, and the complex psychology of addiction.
Thomas Lu is an assistant producer for Hidden Brain.He came to NPR in 2017 as an intern for the TED Radio Hour. He has worked with How I Built This, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Pop Culture Happy Hour. Before coming to NPR, he was a production intern for StoryCorps.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.