Shankar Vedantam

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, gobbleydegook. 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.

Olutosin Oduwole was in his dorm room at Southern Illinois University when police knocked on his door one day in 2007. They were there to arrest him.

"In my mind I'm thinking, 'Okay, maybe a warrant for a ticket.' I really didn't know what was going on," he says.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This week, we look at the language we use around race and religion, and what it says about the culture we live in.

When we think about dishonesty, we mostly think about the big stuff.

We see big scandals, big lies, and we think to ourselves, I could never do that. We think we're fundamentally different from Bernie Madoff or Tiger Woods.

But behind big lies are a series of small deceptions. Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, writes about this in his book The Honest Truth about Dishonesty.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Many of us find that our circle of friends gets smaller as we get older, and researchers say this is especially true for men. NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam looks at social isolation among men and what it can do to their health.

Economic theory rests on a simple notion about humans: people are rational. They seek out the best information. They measure costs and benefits, and maximize pleasure and profit. This idea of the rational economic actor has been around for centuries.

But about 50 years ago, two psychologists shattered these assumptions. They showed that people routinely walk away from good money. And they explained why, once we get in a hole, we often keep digging.

Are you racist?

It's a question that makes most of us uncomfortable and defensive.

Harvard University psychologist Mahzarin Banaji says while most people don't feel they're racist, they likely carry unfavorable opinions about people of color — even if they are people of color themselves.

Banaji is one of the creators of the Implicit Association Test, a widely-used tool for measuring a person's implicit biases. She says it's important to acknowledge that the individual mind sits in society.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

No one will deny that marriage is hard. In fact, there's evidence it's getting even harder.

Eli Finkel, a social psychologist at Northwestern University, argues that's because our expectations of marriage have increased dramatically in recent decades.

"[A] marriage that would have been acceptable to us in the 1950s is a disappointment to us today because of those high expectations," he says.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Power Hour

Jan 23, 2018

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.

Fighting miscommunication might seem an ironic choice for an actor whose comedy career was built on all the funny consequences of people misunderstanding each other.

But Alan Alda has made it his mission to help scientists — and the rest of us — communicate better.

It all started when he was hosting the PBS interview program Scientific American Frontiers. He pushed himself, and the scientists he interviewed, to have conversations — to really listen to each other, to connect with each other, and to try to understand one another's perspective.

Our airwaves are filled with debates about immigrants and refugees. Who should be in the United States, who shouldn't, and who should decide?

These modern debates often draw upon our ideas about past waves of immigration. We sometimes assume that earlier generations of newcomers quickly learned English and integrated into American society. But historian Maria Cristina Garcia says these ideas are often false.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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.

Lots of people make New Year's resolutions that focus on conserving something. Some people pledge to eat less junk food. Others will commit to saving more money.

Columbia University law professor Tim Wu has a suggestion for something else people should consider conserving: attention. In his new book The Attention Merchants, Tim argues that our mental space is constantly being hijacked.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NOEL KING, HOST:

It may sound like the plot of a movie: police find a young man dead with stab wounds. Tests quickly show he'd had Ebola.

Officials realize the suspects in the case, men in a local gang, may have picked up and spread Ebola across the slum. These men are reluctant to quarantine themselves and some – including a man nicknamed "Time Bomb" – cannot even be found.

This scenario actually unfolded in the West African country of Liberia in 2015. And what followed was a truly unconventional effort by epidemiologists to stop a new Ebola outbreak.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump has talked an awful lot about fake news this past year, and it's not just the president. Other Republicans use this term. Democrats use it. It has become an increasingly partisan phrase. Don't like something? Call it fake news. Social science research explores how our minds actually push away information that gets in the way of our feelings and desires. NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam talked with our own David Greene about this.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Hi, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Hi, David.

All social classes have unspoken rules.

From A-list celebrities to teachers, doctors, lawyers, and journalists — there are social norms that govern our decisions, whether we realize it or not.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We begin this next item with the question, what is it that makes you you? A person's personality and potential can be tricky things to pinpoint and measure. On today's Morning Edition, NPR's Shankar Vedantam looked at the world of personality testing and what these tests can and cannot tell us about ourselves. And now he explores new research that asks another question - can the ways we categorize people affect not just who they are now, but who they'll become in the future?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If anybody with Internet access eventually sees the offer click here and take an online personality test, they're not very scientific. But they can be fun. BuzzFeed had a quiz called Which "Star Wars" Villain are You? Well, some employers are using more rigorous personality tests. So what can they really reveal about the people who take them? Here's NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE")

Authenticity is a trait we all prize. We all want the real thing - whether that thing is a designer purse, or a loving relationship.

But the two stories you'll hear today raise profound questions about authenticity and nature of human belief: If you believe something is real, if you can fall in love with someone or stand in awe of a painting, is it possible that it doesn't actually matter whether the object of your affection is fake?

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In one of the most famous scenes from the Harry Potter series, a group of kids, new to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, line up before an old and crumpled wizard's hat. It is the sorting hat. The hat will tell them which house they'll belong to during their Hogwarts education.

There is something deeply appealing about the sorting hat. It is wise. It seems to know people better than they know themselves.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So new research suggests that you can tell a lot about people by the way they talk. In particular, there's a difference between people who ask questions and people who do not. Our own Rachel Martin asked some questions of NPR's Shankar Vedantam.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Pages