Shankar Vedantam

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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.

In 2006, Derek Amato suffered a major concussion from diving into a shallow swimming pool. When he woke up in the hospital, he was different. He discovered he was really good a playing piano.

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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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Bababababa, dadadadada, ahgagaga. Got that?

Babies are speaking to us all the time, but most of us have no clue what they're saying. To us non-babies, it all sounds like charming, mysterious, gobbledegook. To researchers, though, babbling is knowable, predictable, and best of all, teachable. This week, we'll find out how to decipher the vocabulary, and the behavior, of the newest members of the human family.

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There are many reasons why the opioid crisis is so hard to confront. One of them is social stigma. It often extends beyond users themselves, to their families.

Hope and Pete Troxell live in Frederick, Maryland. Last year, their 34-year-old daughter Alicia died after overdosing on fentanyl – a synthetic form of heroin. She was seven months pregnant. Hope says before Alicia's death, they often felt the weight of judgment.

"So many people look at these [people] that are addicted to drugs, they call them every name in the book. They're junkies, they're thieves."

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

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It's widely known that women are paid less than men for the same work. We can argue about why that is. But here's a question. Why would people pay less for a painting at auction just because it was painted by a woman? Shankar Vedantam, NPR's social science correspondent, has come across some research about gender bias in the art world. Hi there, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what's the research?

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The truth can be a tough pill to swallow.

We avoid getting an important medical test done, fearing bad results. We turn off the news when the headlines make us upset, even though the information is pertinent to us.

This behavior, according to economist Joshua Tasoff, is irrational.

"A person should never avoid information, because information can never hurt a decision," he says.

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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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Fresh Starts

Jul 11, 2018

In 2006, Derek Amato suffered a major concussion from diving into a shallow swimming pool. When he woke up in the hospital, he was different. He discovered he was really good a playing piano.

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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Nearly every worker has been in this situation. You're about to go home for the day, and the boss says, I need you to stay a little bit longer, could you just finish this extra work? Now, if you're lucky, you get paid overtime for that. But sometimes, you just have to work longer, and you get nothing. NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam brings us an account of how this plays out in a pretty unusual work setting. Hi there, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Hi, David.

"Fake news" is a phrase that may seem specific to our particular moment and time in American history.

But Columbia University Professor Andie Tucher says fake news is deeply rooted in American journalism.

Every year, many students who have overcome daunting obstacles in high school receive good news — they've been accepted to college.

These kids represent a success story: through hard work and determination, they've made it into college, and perhaps even on to a better life.

Except it doesn't always work out that way.

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Anyone who's tried (and failed) to follow a diet knows that food is more than fuel. The reasons we eat are even embedded in our language. When we're in an unfamiliar place, we yearn for comfort food. We take one too many scoops of ice cream because we stress eat. We connect to others by breaking bread.

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There is one question parents rarely answer truthfully. Do you play favorites with your kids? Overwhelmingly, parents say no. But what does the research say? Our co-host Steve Inskeep talked about it with NPR's Shankar Vedantam.

Parents these days are stressed. So are their kids.

The root of this anxiety, one scholar says, is the way we understand the relationship between parents and children. Alison Gopnik, a psychology and philosophy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks parents—especially middle-class parents—view their children as entities they can mold into a specific image.

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.

There's a moment from nearly a decade ago that's still on loop in Laura Ogden's mind. When Laura plays back this mental video, she imagines an alternate ending. A happier ending.

There's a technical name for this kind of thinking: A counterfactual.

A counterfactual is a mental simulation where you think about something that happened, and then imagine an alternate ending.

Kathleen Vohs, a professor at the University of Minnesota, says we come up with counterfactuals all the time.

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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