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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.

  • 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?
  • In the past few weeks, the nation has been gripped by protests against police brutality toward black and brown Americans. The enormous number of demonstrators may be new, but the biases they're protesting are not. In 2017, we looked at research on an alleged form of bias in the justice system. This week, we revisit that story, and explore how public perceptions of rap music may have played a role in the prosecution of a man named Olutosin Oduwole.
  • President Trump said this week that a few "bad apples" were to blame for police killings of black people. But research suggests that something more complicated is at play — a force that affects everyone in the culture, not just police officers. In this bonus episode, we revisit our 2017 look at implicit bias and how a culture of racism can infect us all.
  • In recent months, many of us have looked back with longing at our lives before COVID-19. For many of us, that world was one of bustle and activity — marked by scenes of packed restaurants, crowded subway cars, and chaotic playgrounds. In this audio essay, Shankar discusses our wistfulness for the world before the pandemic, and why such nostalgia can actually help to orient us toward the future.
  • We don't always behave the way economic models say we will. We don't save enough for retirement. We give money to charity. This week, why we act in ways that go against our "rational" self-interest.
  • We all know people who prefer to follow the rules, and others who prefer to flout them. Psychologist Michele Gelfand defines these two ways of being as "tight" and "loose." She says the tight/loose framework can help us to better understand individuals, businesses, and even nations. This week, we look at the core traits of tight and loose worldviews, and how they may shape our lives — from interactions with our spouses to global efforts to fight the coronavirus.
  • A virus is more than a biological organism. It's a social organism. Historian Nancy Bristow shares the lessons about human behavior that we can take away from a century-old pandemic.
  • It sounds like a movie plot: police discover the body of a young man who's been murdered. The body tests positive for a deadly infectious disease. Authorities trace the killing to a gang. They race to find the gang members, who may also be incubating the virus. This week on Hidden Brain, we revisit our 2016 story about disease, panic, and how a public health team used psychology to confront an epidemic.
  • What would drive someone to take another person's life? When researchers at the University of Chicago asked that question, the answer was a laundry list of slights: a stolen jacket, or a carelessly lobbed insult. It made them wonder whether crime rates could be driven down by teaching young men to pause, take a deep breath, and think before they act. In this 2017 episode, we go inside a program that teaches Chicago teens to do just that. We also explore what research has found about whether this approach actually works.
  • Have you ever had a job where you had to stop and ask yourself: what am I doing here? If I quit tomorrow, would anyone even notice? This week on Hidden Brain, we revisit our 2018 conversation with anthropologist David Graeber about the rise of what he calls "bullsh*t jobs," and how these positions affect the people who hold them.