Shankar Vedantam

When a baby is born, one of the first questions people ask the parents is this: "What is it?"

"Gender is unquestionably the most salient feature of a person's identity," says Lise Eliot, a professor of neuroscience at Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago. "That's the first thing we notice about someone and it is certainly the first characteristic infants learn to discriminate."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, HOST:

This HIDDEN BRAIN. I'm Shankar Vedantam. For many years, tech companies have been really good at innovation and making money. What they've been less good at is in hiring and keeping a diverse workforce.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, HOST:

This HIDDEN BRAIN. I'm Shankar Vedantam. For many years, tech companies have been really good at innovation and making money. What they've been less good at is in hiring and keeping a diverse workforce.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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.

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 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This week, we're returning to our archives to grapple with the troubling history of medical experimentation on African Americans and how that history connects to the unequal medical care African Americans still receive today.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Donald Trump's decision to temporarily ban immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees from across the globe has set off a firestorm of protest. In airports and city streets across the U.S. and beyond, people turned out by the thousands over the weekend to protest the action.

Researchers have long been confused by what seems like a paradox: many people in America vote against their economic self-interests. Whether it's the working class conservative who wants a tax cut for the wealthy, or a member of the liberal elite who fights for safety nets that raise his own taxes — we don't always act in the way that would help us the most.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So we know that a picture speaks a thousand words, but NPR's Shankar Vedantam is here to tell us how it also gives us really strong impressions of people that we can't seem to shake. Hi, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

It sounds like the plot of a movie.

Police discover a body in a warehouse. It's a young man who's been stabbed multiple times. They swab the body — and it tests positive for a deadly infectious disease.

Investigators realize the people who killed him — members of a street gang — may now be spreading the virus without knowing it.

This actually happened in the West African nation of Liberia in 2015. The deadly disease was Ebola.

"Clean up this mess!"

This is a command you've probably given or received in your life. Perhaps in the last day, or even the last hour.

To many of us, the desire to bring order to chaos – to tidy up our kids' toys, organize an overstuffed closet, or rake the leaves covering the lawn – can be nearly irresistible. And it's a desire that extends to other aspects of our lives: Managers tell employees to get organized. Politicians are elected on promises to clean up Washington. And so on.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As the mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani was a proponent of a controversial policing philosophy known as "broken windows." It calls for police to go after small crimes, in hopes of preventing bigger problems.

At first, it appeared as if violent crime dropped in the neighborhoods where "broken windows" policing was in force. The statistics, however, told a different story.

But the idea remains popular, despite evidence it likely had only modest effects.

Pages