Shankar Vedantam

Shankar Vedantam is a science correspondent for NPR. 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.

Before joining NPR in 2011, Vedantam spent 10 years as a reporter at The Washington Post. From 2007 to 2009, he was also a columnist, and wrote the Department of Human Behavior column for the Post. Vedantam writes an occasional column for Slate called "Hidden Brain."

Throughout his career, Vedantam has been recognized with many journalism honors including awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors, the South Asian Journalists Association, the Asian American Journalists Association, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, and the American Public Health Association.

In 2009-2010, Vedantam served as a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He participated in the 2005 Templeton-Cambridge Fellowship on Science and Religion, the 2003-2004 World Health Organization Journalism Fellowship, and the 2002-2003 Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship.

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, described 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 play, Tom, Dick and Harriet.

Vedantam has served as a lecturer at many academic institutions including Harvard University and Columbia University. In 2010, he completed a two year-term as a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. Since 2006, he has served on the advisory board of the Templeton-Cambridge Fellowships in Science & Religion.

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12:30pm

Tue November 27, 2012
Deceptive Cadence

Do Orchestras Really Need Conductors?

Originally published on Wed December 5, 2012 8:12 am

Does This Guy Matter? Conductor Leonard Bernstein during rehearsal with the Cincinnati Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 1977.
James Garrett New York Daily News via Getty Images

Have you ever wondered whether music conductors actually influence their orchestras?

They seem important. After all, they're standing in the middle of the stage and waving their hands. But the musicians all have scores before them that tell them what to play. If you took the conductor away, could the orchestra manage on its own?

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1:19am

Wed November 14, 2012
Humans

Study: Reading 'Maxim' Can Make You A Theft Target

Originally published on Wed November 14, 2012 6:06 am

TK
iStockphoto.com

Some time ago, a man wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a hoodie drove a dirty Ford Explorer into a carwash in Fort Worth, Texas. As soon as the car came back clean, he got it filthy again, and drove to the next carwash. He did this with every single full-service carwash in town.

The man wasn't suffering from a strange mental disorder; Patrick Kinkade was a criminologist conducting an experiment.

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1:22am

Fri November 9, 2012
It's All Politics

What Earthquakes Can Teach Us About Elections

Originally published on Fri November 9, 2012 10:46 am

Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University, discusses his 13 keys to a successful election campaign on April 13 in his office in Washington, D.C.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

In January 2010, more than a year before Mitt Romney had formally announced he was running for president, political historian Allan Lichtman predicted President Obama would be re-elected in 2012.

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10:05am

Wed October 31, 2012
The Salt

Behind A Halloween Mask, Even 'Good' Kids Can Turn Into Candy Thieves

Originally published on Wed October 31, 2012 1:07 pm

Is there an angel or a devil behind the mask? Scientists say it may not matter in terms of anonymous behavior.
Joel Saget AFP/Getty Images

Vampires and monsters will be out in force tonight, but some of the darkest creatures out there might be your little angels inside those Halloween costumes.

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11:21am

Thu October 25, 2012
Humans

Decision Time: Why Do Some Leaders Leave A Mark?

Originally published on Fri October 26, 2012 10:56 am

Abraham Lincoln, circa 1850. Lincoln was a political non-entity before he was elected. Why is he more widely known to history than the presidents who came immediately before and after him?
Hulton Archive 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 1, Alix Spiegel looked at the personalities of American presidents. In Part 2, Jon Hamilton examined leadership in the animal kingdom.

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12:31am

Tue October 9, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

A Lively Mind: Your Brain On Jane Austen

Originally published on Tue October 16, 2012 8:35 am

Matt Langione, a subject in the study, reads Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Results from the study suggest that blood flow in the brain differs during leisurely and critical reading activities.
L.A. Cicero Stanford University

At a recent academic conference, Michigan State University professor Natalie Phillips stole a glance around the room. A speaker was talking but the audience was fidgety. Some people were conferring among themselves, or reading notes. One person had dozed off.

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1:28am

Thu September 20, 2012
Science

Why Pictures Can Sway Your Moral Judgment

Originally published on Thu September 20, 2012 7:41 am

iStockphoto.com

When we think about morality, many of us think about religion or what our parents taught us when we were young. Those influences are powerful, but many scientists now think of the brain as a more basic source for our moral instincts.

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1:39am

Wed September 12, 2012
The Salt

Five Ways To Spot A Fake Online Review, Restaurant Or Otherwise

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 12:47 pm

One sign that a restaurant review is a fake is if it gives a very high or very low rating without many specifics.
Bill Oxford iStockphoto.com

Thinking of going to a nice restaurant? Before you decide, you probably go online and read reviews of the place from other customers (or you listen to these actors read them to you). Online reviews of restaurants, travel deals, apps and just about anything you want to buy have become a powerful driver of consumer behavior. Unsurprisingly, they have also created a powerful incentive to cheat.

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1:27am

Tue August 28, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Can You Learn While You're Asleep?

Originally published on Fri August 31, 2012 7:44 am

Research suggests basic forms of learning are possible while snoozing.
iStockphoto.com

If you're a student, you may have harbored the fantasy of learning lessons while you sleep. Who wouldn't want to stick on a pair of headphones, grab some shut-eye with a lesson about, say, Chinese history playing in his ears — and wake up with newly acquired knowledge of the Ming Dynasty?

Sadly, it doesn't work. The history lesson either keeps you from going to sleep, or it doesn't — in which case you don't learn it.

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1:04am

Wed August 22, 2012
It's All Politics

Are Independents Just Partisans In Disguise?

Originally published on Wed August 22, 2012 5:31 am

Don Nichols iStockphoto.com

Independent voters have grown in recent years into a mega voting bloc. By some estimates they outnumber registered Republicans, and even registered Democrats.

Every election cycle, independents generate enormous amounts of interest as candidates, pollsters and the media probe their feelings. These voters are widely considered to hold the key to most elections.

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1:29am

Mon August 6, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

An Anthropologist Walks Into A Bar And Asks, 'Why Is This Joke Funny?'

Originally published on Thu August 9, 2012 2:26 pm

Amateur comedian Robert Lynch takes the mic at the Metropolitan Room in New York City on July 21. Lynch is also an evolutionary anthropologist who is studying what laughter reveals about us.
Melanie Burford for NPR

It's Saturday night at the Metropolitan Room, a comedy club in New York City. Host Jimmy Failla is warming up the crowd.

"Where you guys from?" he asks one group in the audience. "Boston? Home of the Red Sox. Personally, we'd prefer you rooted for the Taliban!"

There are 50 or 60 people in the audience, sipping cocktails. Failla has a system. He asks people where they're from. Most are locals. He then hits them with something they can relate to.

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3:05am

Fri August 3, 2012
The Torch

Would You Rather Win Silver Or Bronze? (Be Careful What You Wish For)

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 7:32 am

all-around gymnastics final." href="/post/would-you-rather-win-silver-or-bronze-be-careful-what-you-wish" class="noexit lightbox">
Who's The Happiest? Researchers studied photos of Olympic medalists to learn who is the happiest. Here, bronze medalist Aliya Mustafina of Russia, gold medalist Gabby Douglas of the U.S., and silver medalist Victoria Komova of Russia pose after the all-around gymnastics final.
Julian Finney Getty Images

Both athletes were U.S. swimmers, both were dripping wet after finishing an Olympics final, and both had just won medals.

The first said, "It's not my normal specialty. ... We went out there and raced tough – and just came up a little short."

The second had a beaming face. He said, "[I] swam my own race. And knew I had a lane, and had an opportunity, and I went for it. It worked out, you know, it's just awesome that I get to go on the podium tonight. Honestly, I'm really proud of myself!"

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2:46pm

Tue July 24, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Tie My Shoes, Please: How Persuasion Works

Originally published on Tue July 24, 2012 3:23 pm

Can You Help Me Tie My Shoe? Researchers found that when study participants were asked an unusual request, they were more likely later on to perform a favor.
iStockphoto.com

Marketers, managers and panhandlers all have something in common: They regularly want to make you do things they want. Marketers want you to buy stuff, managers want you to finish projects on time, and panhandlers want you to spare a buck, or three.

Over the years, psychologists have studied the techniques of manipulation and found several that seem to work. (Read on only if you agree to use these techniques for good and not for evil!)

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2:58pm

Thu July 12, 2012
Humans

How Stereotypes Can Drive Women To Quit Science

Originally published on Thu July 12, 2012 6:29 pm

Ayodhya Ouditt NPR

Walk into any tech company or university math department, and you'll likely see a gender disparity: Fewer women than men seem to go into fields involving science, engineering, technology and mathematics.

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12:57am

Tue May 29, 2012
Family Matters: The Money Squeeze

Listening To Parents Key To Financial Responsibility

Originally published on Tue May 29, 2012 2:34 am

Parents can make a difference in whether their kids become spenders or savers, studies find.
iStockphoto.com

As an increasing number of Americans live into their 80s and 90s, many families are struggling to find ways to make retirement dollars — that were once supposed to support seniors for years — now stretch over decades.

More and more, families have to care for the very elderly, as well as look after children who might be college grads but haven't found a job in a difficult economy.

All this requires one very important thing: lots of money.

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1:42am

Wed May 9, 2012
It's All Politics

Partisan Psychology: Why Are People Partial To Political Loyalties Over Facts?

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 8:32 am

President Bush and then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry shake hands at the end of a presidential debate in 2004 in St. Louis. Researchers want to better understand why partisans' views of the facts change in light of their political loyalties.
Charlie Reidel AP

When pollsters ask Republicans and Democrats whether the president can do anything about high gas prices, the answers reflect the usual partisan divisions in the country. About two-thirds of Republicans say the president can do something about high gas prices, and about two-thirds of Democrats say he can't.

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1:04am

Thu May 3, 2012
Humans

Put Away The Bell Curve: Most Of Us Aren't 'Average'

Originally published on Thu May 3, 2012 9:06 pm

Hank Aaron breaks Babe Ruth's record for career home runs as he hits No. 715 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on April 8, 1974, on his way to a career 755 home runs. Research suggests that in a wide variety of professions, including collegiate and professional sports, a small but significant number of individuals perform exceedingly well and the rest of individuals' performance trails off.
AP

For decades, teachers, managers and parents have assumed that the performance of students and employees fits what's known as the bell curve — in most activities, we expect a few people to be very good, a few people to be very bad and most people to be average.

The bell curve powerfully shapes how we think of human performance: If lots of students or employees happen to show up as extreme outliers — they're either very good or very bad — we assume they must represent a skewed sample, because only a few people in a truly random sample are supposed to be outliers.

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1:01am

Thu April 26, 2012
Sports

Power (Dis)Play? Teams In Black Draw More Penalties

Originally published on Thu April 26, 2012 7:21 am

Keith Ballard, right, of the Vancouver Canucks is tripped by Colin Fraser of the Los Angeles Kings for a penalty during game in Los Angeles on April 18. Researchers studying hockey penalties found that teams wearing black jerseys were far more likely to draw penalties than teams wearing other colored or white jerseys.
Harry How Getty Images

Hockey teams wearing darker-colored jerseys are more likely to be penalized for aggressive fouls than teams wearing white jerseys, according to new research. Teams wearing black jerseys in particular get penalized the most, according to an analysis that may offer a window into the hidden psychological dynamics of the ongoing NHL playoffs.

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1:30am

Thu April 19, 2012
All Tech Considered

To Read All Those Web Privacy Policies, Just Take A Month Off Work

Originally published on Thu April 19, 2012 3:08 am

Many Web users have little idea about how, or when, they're being tracked. In this 2011 photo, Max Schrems of Austria sits with 1,222 pages about his activities on Facebook — the company gave him the file after he requested it under European law.
Ronald Zak AP

Internet surfers have long worried that they have insufficient control over their online privacy — despite the privacy policies many people agree to when they visit websites or use online services.

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3:21pm

Fri April 6, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

FDA's Stance On Online Pharmacies May Go Too Far, Study Says

Each year, millions of Americans don't fill their prescriptions because they can't afford to.
Maya Kovacheva Photography iStockphoto.com

The Food and Drug Administration has warned people about the many dangers of buying medications from foreign pharmacies over the Internet. While some sites might offer high-quality medicines, there are plenty that sell bogus and potentially dangerous products.

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