Alix Spiegel

NPR correspondent Alix Spiegel works on the Science desk and covers psychology.

Arriving at NPR in 2003, much of Spiegel's reporting has been on emotion mental health. She has reported on everything from the psychological impact of killing another person, to the emotional devastation of Katrina, to psycho-therapeutic approaches to transgender children.

Over the course of her career in public radio, Spiegel has won awards including the George Foster Peabody Award, Livingston Award, and Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award. Spiegel's 2007 documentary revealing mental health issues and crime plaguing a Southern Mississippi FEMA trailer park housing Katrina victims was recognized with Scripps Howard National Journalism Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. Her radio documentary 81 Words, about the removal of homosexuality from psychiatry's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, is being turned into a film by HBO.

Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Spiegel graduated from Oberlin College. She began her career in radio in 1995 as one of the founding producers of the public radio show This American Life. Spiegel left the show in 1999 to become a full time reporter. She has also written for The New Yorker magazine and The New York Times.

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3:46pm

Tue October 23, 2012
Politics

Charming, Cold: Does Presidential Personality Matter?

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 7:59 am

With the advent of radio and television, presidential charisma became a more important personality characteristic. Above, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who is rated one of the most charismatic presidents; John F. Kennedy; Bill Clinton.
Getty Images

As part of NPR's coverage of this year's presidential election, All Things Considered asked three science reporters to weigh in on the race. The result is a three-part series on the science of leadership. In Part 2, Jon Hamilton examined leadership in the animal kingdom.

Charming or cold. Flexible or rigid. Paranoid or impulsive or calculating.

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1:33am

Wed October 3, 2012
Science

How Politicians Get Away With Dodging The Question

Originally published on Wed October 3, 2012 8:14 am

In a 2004 debate in St. Louis, President Bush answers a question as his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, listens. Both candidates used a number of "pivots" in their debates.
Ron Edmonds AP

Brett O'Donnell is a debate consultant who trains Republican candidates. He has worked with George W. Bush and John McCain, and for a short time earlier this year, he helped prep Mitt Romney.

O'Donnell is an expert on "the pivot."

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1:36am

Mon September 17, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Teachers' Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 7:52 am

Teachers interact differently with students expected to succeed. But they can be trained to change those classroom behaviors.
iStockphoto.com

In my Morning Edition story today, I look at expectations — specifically, how teacher expectations can affect the performance of the children they teach.

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12:39pm

Tue September 4, 2012
Music News

Why We're Happy Being Sad: Pop's Emotional Evolution

Originally published on Wed November 6, 2013 1:48 pm

A less complicated time? Petula Clark holds her 1965 gold record for "Downtown," an uptempo song in a major key.
R. McPhedran Getty Images

Six years ago, Glenn Schellenberg decided to do an experiment.

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2:02am

Mon September 3, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Can We Learn To Forget Our Memories?

Originally published on Mon September 3, 2012 5:06 pm

Research shows that under certain circumstances, we can train ourselves to forget details about particular memories.
iStockphoto.com

Around 10 years ago, Malcolm MacLeod got interested in forgetting.

For most people, the tendency to forget is something we spend our time cursing. Where are my keys? What am I looking for in the refrigerator again? What is that woman's name?

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12:58am

Fri August 17, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Would Judge Give Psychopath With Genetic Defect Lighter Sentence?

Originally published on Fri August 17, 2012 9:06 am

In 1991, a man named Stephen Mobley robbed a Domino's pizza in Hall County, Ga., and shot the restaurant manager dead.

Crimes like this happen all the time, but this particular case became a national story, in part because Mobley seemed so proud of his crime. After the robbery, he bragged about the killing and had the Domino's logo tattooed on his back.

But there was another reason Mobley's case became famous.

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3:18pm

Tue May 29, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Small Change In Reading To Preschoolers Can Help Disadvantaged Kids Catch Up

Originally published on Tue May 29, 2012 6:45 pm

Kimberly Payton, a teacher at the Small Savers Child Development Center, reads to a group of preschoolers in Washington, D.C., in 2010. Researchers say that teachers who make small changes in how they read to 4-year-olds can improve kids' reading skills later on.
Ricky Carioti The Washington Post/Getty Images

On a recent Monday morning in Washington, D.C., a group of 3-year-old preschoolers bumbled their way into a circle, more or less, on the rug of their classroom. It was time to read.

The children sat cross-legged as their teacher, Mary-Lynn Goldstein, held high a book, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. There was a short conversation about pigeons, then, for reasons that weren't entirely clear, cows; and then Goldstein began to read. She read as most teachers read, occasionally stopping to ask a question, point out a picture or make a comment about the story.

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1:20pm

Tue May 1, 2012
Science

Psychology Of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 8:44 am

Adam Cole/NPR

Enron, Worldcom, Bernie Madoff, the subprime mortgage crisis.

Over the past decade or so, news stories about unethical behavior have been a regular feature on TV, a long, discouraging parade of misdeeds marching across our screens. And in the face of these scandals, psychologists and economists have been slowly reworking how they think about the cause of unethical behavior.

In general, when we think about bad behavior, we think about it being tied to character: Bad people do bad things. But that model, researchers say, is profoundly inadequate.

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1:35am

Mon April 30, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

To Predict Dating Success, The Secret's In The Pronouns

Originally published on Sun May 6, 2012 9:17 pm

People who are interested in and paying close attention to each other begin to speak more alike, a psychologist says.
iStockphoto.com

On a recent Friday night, 30 men and 30 women gathered at a hotel restaurant in Washington, D.C. Their goal was love, or maybe sex, or maybe some combination of the two. They were there for speed dating.

The women sat at separate numbered tables while the men moved down the line, and for two solid hours they did a rotation, making small talk with people they did not know, one after another, in three-minute increments.

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2:00am

Tue February 21, 2012
NPR Story

More Children Struggle With Gender Identity Disorder

Originally published on Tue February 21, 2012 5:04 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The March issue of the medical journal, Pediatrics, features a striking editorial. It begins with the following sentence: A new pediatric problem is in town. That new problem, according to the editorial, is gender identity disorder in children. Pediatricians are apparently seeing more young patients who express an interest in changing their gender. NPR's Alix Spiegel reports.

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1:16pm

Tue February 7, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

A Fresh Look At Antidepressants Finds Low Risk Of Youth Suicide

Originally published on Tue February 7, 2012 3:35 pm

In 2004, after an extensive review, the Food and Drug Administration issued a strong warning to doctors who prescribed antidepressants to teens and children.

Antidepressants, the FDA said, appeared to increase suicide among kids and teens. Doctors needed to be careful. The FDA even mandated that a "black-box warning," the strongest type, be placed on antidepressant packaging.

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10:01pm

Sun January 22, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

When It Comes To Depression, Serotonin Isn't The Whole Story

Originally published on Fri February 3, 2012 11:13 am

The antidepressant Prozac selectively targets the chemical serotonin.
Paul S. Howell Getty Images

When I was 17 years old, I got so depressed that what felt like an enormous black hole appeared in my chest. Everywhere I went, the black hole went, too.

So to address the black-hole issue, my parents took me to a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She did an evaluation and then told me this story:

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10:01pm

Sun January 1, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits

Originally published on Thu January 5, 2012 1:49 pm

U.S. soldiers at Long Binh base, northeast of Saigon, line up to give urine samples at a heroin detection center in June 1971, before departing for the U.S.
AP

It's a tradition as old as New Year's: making resolutions. We will not smoke, or sojourn with the bucket of mint chocolate chip. In fact, we will resist sweets generally, including the bowl of M &Ms that our co-worker has helpfully positioned on the aisle corner of his desk. There will be exercise, and the learning of a new language.

It is resolved.

So what does science know about translating our resolve into actual changes in behavior? The answer to this question brings us — strangely enough — to a story about heroin use in Vietnam.

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1:50pm

Fri December 23, 2011
Science

Taj Hotel Staff Were Mumbai's Unlikely Heroes

Originally published on Fri December 23, 2011 8:18 pm

Indian firefighters attempt to put out a fire as smoke billows out of the historic Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, which was stormed by armed gunmen in November 2008.
Indranil Mukherjee AFP/Getty Images

On Nov. 26, 2008, terrorists simultaneously attacked about a dozen locations in Mumbai, India, including one of the most iconic buildings in the city, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

For two nights and three days, the Taj was under siege, held by men with automatic weapons who took some people hostage, killed others and set fire to the famous dome of the hotel.

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11:21am

Mon December 5, 2011
Humans

For Creative People, Cheating Comes More Easily

Originally published on Mon December 5, 2011 5:22 pm

New research suggests that people who are more creative are more likely to cheat.
iStockphoto.com

Five months after the implosion of Enron, Feb. 12, 2002, the company's chief executive, Ken Lay, finally stood in front of Congress and the world, and placed his hand on a Bible.

At that point everyone had questions for Lay. It was clear by then that Enron was the product of a spectacular ethical failure, that there had been massive cheating and lying. The real question was: How many people had been dishonest? Who was in on it?

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1:00pm

Fri November 25, 2011
Research News

Why We Give, Not Why You Think

Originally published on Fri November 25, 2011 3:16 pm

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

This time of year, pleas for donations are as plentiful as eggnog and door-buster sales. Americans give around $300 billion a year to charity. And as NPR's Alix Spiegel reports, psychologists have started to look more closely at when and why we're motivated to give.

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2:37am

Tue September 27, 2011
Science

How Psychology Solved A WWII Shipwreck Mystery

Originally published on Mon April 23, 2012 10:52 am

A gun turret on the sunken Australian warship HMAS Sydney. All 645 people aboard the Sydney died.
AP

In November 1941, two ships crossed paths off the coast of Australia. One was the German raider HSK Kormoran. The other: an Australian warship called the HMAS Sydney. Guns were fired, the ships were damaged, and both sank to the bottom of the ocean.

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10:01pm

Sun September 11, 2011
Your Health

For The Dying, A Chance To Rewrite Life

Originally published on Mon September 12, 2011 11:47 am

Kate Frego pins the turban of her mother, Aida Essenburg. Before Essenburg died in July of this year, she sat down with a dignity therapist to record the history of her life in what became a 50-page document.
Courtesy of Kate Frego

For several decades, psychiatrists who work with the dying have been trying to come up with new psychotherapies that can help people cope with the reality of their death. One of these therapies asks the dying to tell the story of their life.

This end-of-life treatment, called dignity therapy, was created by a man named Harvey Chochinov. When Chochinov was a young psychiatrist working with the dying, he had a powerful experience with one of the patients he was trying to counsel — a man with an inoperable brain tumor.

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10:01pm

Mon August 8, 2011
Environment

Why Cleaned Wastewater Stays Dirty In Our Minds

Brent Haddad studies water in a place where water is often in short supply: California.

Haddad is a professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. About 14 years ago, he became very interested in the issue of water reuse.

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2:59am

Mon August 1, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

Can Therapy Help Change Sexual Orientation? The Jury's Still Out

Conversion therapy — a controversial psychotherapy that tries to help gay men and women become straight — is in the news again. Marcus Bachmann, the husband of Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, runs a counseling clinic that reportedly provides the therapy. His wife has had to face many questions about it lately, prompting her to say Thursday, "My husband is not running for the presidency ... neither is our business."

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