Shankar Vedantam

Many of us react to the buzzes and beeps that come from our phones with the urgency of a parent responding to a baby's cry. We can't help but pick up our phone and look at the latest notification. We know this probably isn't the healthiest nor the sanest response to a vibrating hunk of a metal, so we tell ourselves we should be less distracted. We shouldn't be so gripped by social media or the churn of work email.

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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 into college, and perhaps even on to a better life.

Except it doesn't always work out that way.

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You've heard the stereotypes - firstborn children are spoiled, middle kids get ignored, and the youngest kids act out because they crave attention. Well, new research shows that birth order really does matter.

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Turn on the TV, and you'll find no shortage of people who claim to know what's going to happen: who's going to get picked for the NBA draft, who will win the next election, which stocks will go up or down.

These pundits and prognosticators all have an air of certainty. And why shouldn't they? We, as the audience, like to hear the world's complexity distilled into simple, pithy accounts. It doesn't help that these commentators rarely pay a serious price when their predictions don't pan out.

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President Trump has often accused the news media of not covering terrorist attacks adequately. In a speech in February he said, "Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland as they did on 9/11, as they did from Boston to Orlando to San Bernardino [...] It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported."

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In 1969, Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist from Stanford University, ran an interesting field study. He abandoned two cars in two very different places: one in a mostly poor, crime-ridden section of New York City, and the other in a fairly affluent neighborhood of Palo Alto, Calif. Both cars were left without license plates and parked with their hoods up.

It's normal to feel drawn to people you share something with — whether that's a name, or a birthday, or a shared profession or background.

But Brett Pelham finds this preference for things and people associated with us goes far beyond what we might expect. He calls this phenomenon Implicit Egotism.

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The Greek poet Archilochus wrote, "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

There are many different interpretations of this parable, but psychologist Phil Tetlock argues it's a way of understanding two cognitive styles: Foxes have different strategies for different problems. They are comfortable with nuance, they can live with contradictions. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, focus on the big picture. They reduce every problem to one organizing principle.

Magic.

That's what it feels like when you bump into your childhood friend on the first day of college ... or meet someone at a party in Paris, only to discover she lives in your dad's childhood home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. But mathematician Joseph Mazur says these coincidences are not as extraordinary as we might think.

"People think that their address book is essentially the people they know, and it turns out any address book is about one percent of the people they know in some way," Mazur explains.

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Americans have long expressed their political views with their wallets, but in recent months, this phenomenon has made national news. A campaign called #grabyourwallet has targeted brands affiliated with Donald Trump.

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Imagine a concrete room, not much bigger than a parking space. No window. You're in there 23 hours a day, 7 days a week; you don't know when you'll get out of this room. A month? A year? A decade?

Our minds don't do well with that kind of solitude and uncertainty.

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If you ever tell a lie, it would be normal for your conscience to bother you. But here's a question. If you tell many lies, does that voice inside go quiet? Neuroscientists recently explored this idea. And our colleague Rachel Martin sat down to talk about it with NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam.

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Hi, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So we're talking about neuroscientists. They were studying the brain, as they are known to do.

VEDANTAM: (Laughter).

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All right. We've been hearing a lot about the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Let's turn now to NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam to talk about some research that gives us a new data point in this conversation.

Hey, Shankar.

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The fight was over a pair of gym shoes. One teenager faces years in prison. The other — the 15-year-old grandson of Congressman Danny Davis — is dead.

We often hear stories about murders sparked by trivial disputes. And we also hear the same solutions proposed year after year: harsher punishments, more gun control.

But what if science can help us find new solutions? Can understanding how we make decisions help us prevent these tragedies?

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