Hidden Brain

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Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain's host Shankar Vedantam reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.

Distributed by: NPR

In a way, all of us are time travelers. If we just pause and close our eyes we can wander back to our first kiss...our first breakup...that grandparent we should have visited...the summer that went on forever. This week, we explore two emotions that pull us into the past: regret and nostalgia. How can we make these feelings work for us, and what can we learn from them?

Anyone who's tried (and failed) to follow a diet knows that food is more than fuel. The reasons we eat are even embedded in our language. When we're in an unfamiliar place, we yearn for comfort food. We take one too many scoops of ice cream because we stress eat. We connect to others by breaking bread.

Parents these days are stressed. So are their kids.

The root of this anxiety, one scholar says, is the way we understand the relationship between parents and children. Alison Gopnik, a psychology and philosophy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks parents—especially middle-class parents—view their children as entities they can mold into a specific image.

Chaos is neither friend nor foe. It just is. This week: two very different perspectives on how to deal with life's most tumultuous moments.

We begin in 2015, in a poor slum in the West African country of Liberia. Police have just discovered a young man, dead and covered in stab wounds. Tests show he was infected with a terrifying disease that causes raging fever, severe internal bleeding, and kills up to 90 percent of the people it touches: Ebola.

There's a moment from nearly a decade ago that's still on loop in Laura Ogden's mind. When Laura plays back this mental video, she imagines an alternate ending. A happier ending.

There's a technical name for this kind of thinking: A counterfactual.

A counterfactual is a mental simulation where you think about something that happened, and then imagine an alternate ending.

Kathleen Vohs, a professor at the University of Minnesota, says we come up with counterfactuals all the time.

After you read this sentence, pause for a moment to think back on advertisements you first heard when you were a child.

Perhaps you recall a favorite jingle or the catchphrase of a cereal mascot. You probably can remember more than just one.

On this week's radio replay, we look at the shelf life of commercials. According to University of Arizona researcher Merrie Brucks, an ad we watched when we were five years old can influence our buying behavior when we're fifty.

People who spend time with young children know firsthand the power of music.

It's easy entertainment.

And any teacher who works in early childhood will tell you that singing can yield amazing results. "If we didn't sing the cleanup song, I don't think anything would have gotten cleaned up," says Laura Cirelli, who worked as an assistant at a day care center in the late 2000s.

But there may be other ways — surprising ways — in which music plays a role in raising a human.

Bababababa, dadadadada, ahgagaga. Got that?

Olutosin Oduwole was in his dorm room at Southern Illinois University when police knocked on his door one day in 2007. They were there to arrest him.

"In my mind I'm thinking, 'Okay, maybe a warrant for a ticket.' I really didn't know what was going on," he says.

What was going on was that the police suspected that Olutosin, a college student and aspiring rapper, was on the brink of committing a Virginia Tech-style mass shooting on his campus. He was soon charged with attempting to make a terrorist threat, and was eventually convicted and sent to prison.

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DAVID GREENE, 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 sees it as 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.

After you read this sentence, pause for a moment to think back on advertisements you first heard when you were a child.

Perhaps you recall a favorite jingle or the catchphrase of a cereal mascot. You probably can remember more than just one.

On this week's Hidden Brain radio show, we look at the shelf life of commercials. According to University of Arizona researcher Merrie Brucks, an ad we watched when we were five years old can influence our buying behavior when we're fifty.

The day was June 4, 1924. A dark-haired girl, just 17 years old, was admitted to the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded. She became colony inmate 1692. The superintendent of the colony examined her. He declared her healthy, free of syphilis, able to read, write, and keep herself tidy. And then he classified her as "feeble-minded of the lowest grade, moron class."

It's one of the darkest chapters in recent history – in 1994, the Hutu-led government of Rwanda led a systematic campaign to wipe out members of the Tutsi minority. At first, the people participating were tied to the government—military leaders, local mayors and police. But soon, thousands of ordinary people were encouraged or bullied into taking part in the killing. Shopkeepers and farmers, fathers and husbands slaughtered their own friends and neighbors, using basic farm tools like hoes and machetes.

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