The "hidden brain" is Shankar Vedantam's shorthand for a host of brain functions, emotional responses, and cognitive processes that happen outside of our conscious awareness, but that have a decisive effect on how we behave.
The hidden brain has its finger on the scale when we make all of our most complex and important decisions - it decides who we fall in love with, whether we should convict someone of murder, or which way to run when someone yells "fire!" It explains why we can become riveted by the story of a single puppy adrift on an ocean but are quickly bored by a story of genocide. The hidden brain can also be deliberately manipulated to vote against someone's interest, or even to become a suicidal terrorist. But the most disturbing thing is that it can do all of this without our knowing.
Shankar Vedantam, longtime author of the Washington Post's popular Department of Human Behavior column, takes us on a tour of this phenomenon and explores its consequences. Using original reporting that combines the latest scientific research with fascinating narratives that take listeners from the American campaign trail to terrorist indoctrination camps, from the World Trade Center on 9/11 to, yes, a puppy adrift in the Pacific Ocean, Vedantam illuminates the dark recesses of our minds while making an original argument about how we can compensate for our mental blindness - and what happens when we don't.
©2010 Shankar Vedantam; (P)2010 Random House Audio
This is a fascinating look at behavior. I use it to strengthen my classes in Psychology and Human Development. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in human behavior and the brain.
I bought this book in a buying binge of what I like to call "Pop Psychology". I figured this would be another knock off of Malcolm Gladwell's books or Dan Ariely's books, but it wasn't. This fellow went fairly deep into similar subjects as the above mentioned authors, he leaned a bit more into the neurological side, but he did it in an interesting and original way. So, in my opinion you won't be wasting your money if you pick this book up and take a good listen.
"This is an absolute must read if you want to understand and counteract the biases caused by our unconscious or 'hidden' brain."
I was shocked, dismayed and intrigued to learn how many experiments and studies show that even if we consider ourselves non racist or sexist, our hidden brain causes us to perceive others in prejudiced ways- without our consent or awareness. This book covered topics such as the mindset of suicide bombers (the total opposite of what I expected -and I am well read on psychology), presidential elections, our responses to humanitarian crises and much more. I was fuming while listening to the studies done on the sexism that males who have transitioned to female encounter in the workplace, likewise, the females who struggle against invisible currents of sexism, only to transition to male and find themselves getting pay rises, more support, less criticism and more respect in general. This book packed a lot of solid data and research into a highly interesting, entertaining and eye opening read. The narrator did a fantastic job also. I believe this should be required reading for people of all walks of life. After all, who wants to spend their life being manipulated by their own brain? By being aware, we can counter the effects of insidious biases.
The violence in this book was distasteful. There are so many examples the author could have used other than the one he picked, which was used to sensationalize for what seemed like a lack of talent or imagination.
a book without violent examples
the narrator was fine
the violent ones, especially when the guy beats the woman to her death with all the people watching.
Audio books with explicit violent content should have warnings. Violence is not the kind of thing one wants to introduce into a relaxed psyche falling asleep. It was so disturbing that I don't even want to hear the rest of the book. I'm just glad my 12-year-old didn't hear that part because we started listening to the book together as we usually do, but I listened ahead even though there were no indications it would suddenly get so violent.
This book provided fascinating information about the instinctual nature of humans. The book unwittingly argues for smaller homogenous group governance over mass group governance. The book implicitly indicates that humans are hardwired to work successfully in smaller groups and units of government; i.e. a state over a large nation, a city over a state, etc. The book's data supports the conclusion that smaller, more homogenous groups working intergroup will be more successful - as they go with the flow of human instinct, which empathizes and loves closely on a small scale and favors those who are familiar. The book tries to posit that we could somehow overcome, through using reasoning to thwart, this bias toward the small kindred group, but it does not provide any factual evidence that this has ever occurred successfully. Very good read and it tickled my genius synapses.
Shankar provides great insights into how our hidden brain and our unconscious bias affects the decisions we make every day.
Rationality and reasoning is the only way we can be better people.
My frustration with this book is that while is takes more than enough space to drive home its point that we are highly influenced by unconscious workings of the brain, it fails to tell you WHY our brains work as they do. Where is the (much more) interesting discussion about WHY human brains evolved to think and act the way they do? There's hardly any mention of evolution of all - which is the driver behind practically everything described in the book!!
For example, he describes a study that showed that when people subconsciously feel eyes looking at them (even if the eyes are on paper), they become much more generous with their money. But, instead of describing the fascinating phenomenon of WHY people react this way, he spends about 5 minutes talking about how interesting it was that people didn't consciously realize that there were eyes on the paper in the room. Is it really all that fascinating that people can't absorb every detail in their line of vision at one time?
No mention of what the evolutionary sciences have known for a long time: people are more generous when they sense they're being watched in order to appear to be a "team player", because to do the opposite could mean being labeled a "free rider" and risk being hurt or outcast from society. Over time, the gene of "be a team player" while I sense I'm being watched" becomes more abundant in the population as the gene "be a free rider while I sense I'm being watched" becomes weeded out. This trait is now so strong in us as humans, that today we're more likely to put money in the community pot for the coffee we take from the office break room if someone is watching us, even if the eyes are just drawings on a piece of paper taped to the fridge.
What's interesting about humans is not that our brains work in a semi-programmed way, but the human story as to WHY that behavior was beneficial to our survival and reproduction throughout our evolutionary past. This book focuses on the top layer - observed behavior - and completely misses what that behavior is built upon - the many layers of our rich human history that has made us what we are today.
Shankar Vedantam is one of the great science journalists of our time, but he doesn't shine in this book after the first few chapters.
It may be the format-- as a journalist, and on his radio program, his stories are always short, punchy, and leave you wondering about the broader implications of the principles he talks about. Here, he organizes the book into what he calls "concentric circles", starting with the very specific and spiraling out towards broader implications of acknowledging the hidden brain. The first few chapters were engrossing, captivating, almost like a murder mystery. But once he delivered the punchline halfway through-- that rationality is largely an illusion and that many of our actions are controlled by the hidden brain-- the stories lost momentum. The last few expanding concentric circles harped on the point while adding little to the overall argument.
Additionally, since Vedantam is so good on the radio, I wish he had narrated his book.
This book makes me question all the decisions I think I make that are logical, and really makes you question why you make the decision we do in society. A great read on how we aren't as logical as we think we are.
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