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.



When consumers think about green products, they often face a dilemma - that car that uses less gasoline or a more efficient refrigerator tends to cost more. Buyers have to choose whether money is more important to them than public good. Now new research shows there might be a way to boost interest in these products, at least among a core group of consumers. NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam is here to talk with us about that. Hi Shankar.


INSKEEP: What consumers?





NPR's social science correspondent, Shankar Vedantam, drops by with juicy new research. He's here with us again. Shankar, what's on your mind?

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: I want to talk about conspiracy theories today, David. And this is everything from whether the U.S. government was secretly behind the 9/11 attacks to whether President Obama was actually born in the United States. What proportion of the U.S population would you say subscribes to one of these theories?

GREENE: Ten, 15 percent, maybe? I don't know.

A new analysis suggests unconscious sexism causes people to take hurricanes with female names less seriously than hurricanes with male names.



From NPR news this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Hear a laugh, you know someone's happy. Hear a sob, you know someone is sad. Or are they? It's been thought that no matter where you live in the world, people express emotions using the same repertoire of sounds. But NPR's social science correspondent, Shankar Vedantam, reports on new research on how emotions are expressed and understood around the globe.

It's been suspected that judges are swayed by their personal beliefs and affiliations. An analysis found that judges become more likely to rule in "pro-feminist" ways if the judges have daughters.

Social science research suggests risky behavior such as braving heights or swimming in deep waters increases your sex appeal. Driving without a seat belt? Not so much.

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This next story begins with an old saying among musicians: If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days of practice, the audience will notice. A study found evidence that saying applies to surgeons, and lives may be at stake.

NPR's Shankar Vedantam has been looking at the results of that study. He's in our studios. Hi, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What was the research?

Research found faculty in academic departments linked to more lucrative professions are more likely to discriminate against women and minorities than faculty in fields linked to less lucrative jobs.



Parents and educators have long assumed that peers matter. If you are at a high school or college where you are surrounded by serious students, you're more likely to take your studies seriously. If your friends are party animals, you're more likely to want to party, too.

NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam, who joins us regularly on this program, recently heard about an unusual social engineering experiment that tried to apply what's known about peer effects to the real world.



From Syria to Afghanistan, to Russia and Ukraine, the United States finds itself confronting some major foreign policy challenges. There are old rivalries and new one testing the limits of the United States.

NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam regularly joins us to talk about matters related to individual and organizational behavior, but today, he's found some new research that's relevant to the way we think about foreign conflicts and he's in our studios. Shankar, welcome back.

The public health community has been trying for years to debunk the spurious connection people have been making between vaccines and autism. Have the messages been backfiring?

In crowdsourcing, a big challenge is not with coming up with creative ideas, but identifying creative ideas. A bias makes us bad at spotting creative ideas when they come from those working around us.



The political map of America changes, but it doesn't change very quickly. Massachusetts was a reliably liberal state decades ago and still is. The South is still the South. This raises the question of why it is that certain areas come to be reliably liberal or conservative.

NPR Shankar Vedantam joins us to discuss some research that explores the question. Hi, Shankar.


INSKEEP: What's the research?

American kids have a problem with obesity, according to the most recent studies. In fact, the closest thing we have to good news about childhood obesity is that kids are not gaining weight as rapidly as they were some years ago.

Researchers may have identified one surprising new factor in why kids are overeating.

Ronald Heifetz has been a professor of public leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School for three decades, teaching classes that have included aspiring business leaders and budding heads of state. Each year, he says, the students start his course thinking they'll learn the answer to one question:

As leaders, how can they get others to follow them?

Heifetz says that whole approach is wrong.

What makes trick-or-treaters happy is candy. And more candy is better, right?

Well, it turns out that might not actually be the case. A few years ago researchers did a study on Halloween night where some trick-or-treaters were given a candy bar, and others were given the candy bar and a piece of bubble gum.

People care more about losing a dollar than gaining a dollar. This ideal, known as loss aversion, has national consequences, too, according to new research. David Greene discusses the phenomenon with NPR's Shankar Vedantam.

John Hewitt is a neuroscientist who studies the biology of intelligence. He's also a parent. Over the years, Hewitt has periodically drawn upon his scientific knowledge in making parenting decisions.

"I'm a father of four children myself and I never worried too much about the environments that I was providing for my children because I thought, well, it would all work out in the end anyway — aren't the genes especially powerful?" Hewitt says.

Backing a losing NFL team isn't just bad for your pride.

It's bad for your waistline.

A study that links sports outcomes with the eating behavior of fans finds that backers of NFL teams eat more food and fattier food the day after a loss. Backers of winning teams, by contrast, eat lighter food, and in moderation.

Thousands of messages posted on the Internet every day in China get censored. Until now, little has been known about how the Chinese censorship machine works — except that it is comprehensive.

"It probably is the largest effort ever to selectively censor human expression," says Harvard University social scientist Gary King. "They don't censor everything. There are millions of Chinese [who] talk about millions of things. But the effort to prune the Internet of certain kinds of information is unprecedented."

Obstetricians perform more cesarean sections when there are financial incentives to do so, according to a new study that explores links between economic incentives and medical decision-making during childbirth.

Chia-Jung Tsay was something of a piano prodigy. By age 12, she was performing Mendelssohn in concert. At 16, she made her debut at Carnegie Hall. Soon, she was on her way to some of the best music schools in the country — Juilliard and the Peabody Conservatory. And she was throwing her hat in the ring for different competitions.

In the popular imagination and in conventional discourse — especially in the context of highly charged news events such as the shooting of Trayvon Martin — prejudice is all about hatred and animosity.

When students show up at college in the fall, they'll have to deal with new classes, new friends and a new environment. In many cases, they will also have new roommates — and an intriguing new research study suggests this can have important mental health consequences.

As the country awaits two important Supreme Court decisions involving state laws on same-sex marriage, a small but consistent body of research suggests that laws that ban gay marriage — or approve it — can affect the mental health of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans.

Anthropologists, sociologists and biologists have explored over several decades many factors that shape the likelihood of sexual coercion of women by men.

For some years now, teachers and parents have noted something about boys and girls. Starting in elementary school, young girls often score better on reading and math tests than young boys do.

The differences are uneven on different tests and do not describe the experience of every child, but empirical studies do document a difference.

Now, two economists are proposing a partial explanation for the disparity that might give some parents heartburn.