Shankar Vedantam

Shankar Vedantam is NPR's social science correspondent and the host of the Hidden Brain podcast. 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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LAKSHMI SINGH, 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.

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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.

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.

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.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's say you're a young person, around 30 years old. And you're the kind of person who likes to take risks. So maybe you're taking risks in your sexual relationships. You're not practicing safe sex.

What would make you change your behavior?

That's a question that's long been pondered by public health officials. And now new research from a World Bank-funded team in Lesotho, a tiny country in southern Africa, has produced a surprising answer.

Lottery tickets!

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Why do people sometimes give generously to a cause — and other times give nothing at all?

That's a timely question, because humanitarian groups fighting the Ebola outbreak need donations from people in rich countries. But some groups say they're getting less money than they'd expect from donors despite all the news.

Medical tests are rarely a pleasant experience, especially if you're worried that something could be seriously wrong. That's true even though we know that regular screenings and tests often help doctors catch issues early.

In the land that came up with the phrase "Thank God it's Friday," and a restaurant chain to capitalize on the sense of relief many feel as the work week ends, researchers made an unusual finding in 2012.

Moms who worked full time reported significantly better physical and mental health than moms who worked part time, research involving more than 2,500 mothers found. And mothers who worked part time reported better health than moms who didn't work at all.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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?

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

For years now, psychologists have been telling couples who yell at one another to stop for the sake of the kids. Such conflict in the home — even when no violence is involved — is associated with a host of negative behavioral and life outcomes for children.

About 69 percent of American adults are overweight or obese, and more than four in five people say they are worried about obesity as a public health problem.

But a recent poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health revealed a curious schism in our national attitudes toward obesity: Only one in five kids had a parent who feared the boy or girl would grow up to be overweight as an adult.

The millions of Americans who make New Year's resolutions to lose weight often have pictures in mind.

They're pictures that have been repeatedly supplied by the health and beauty magazines at supermarket checkout lines. They feature skinny models in bikinis, or toned guys with six-pack abs, and captions about how you could look like this by summer.

Some people go so far as to tape these pictures onto their refrigerators and cupboards. When they're tempted to reach for a cookie, they reason, the sight of that toned model might dissuade them from breaking their resolutions.