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Publisher's Summary

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

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  • Overall
  • Anne
  • Hilton Head Island, SC, USA
  • 02-16-10

Adjunct Instructor of Psychology

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.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • michael
  • EAST PEORIA, IL, United States
  • 01-25-11

It's a fairly good book, all things considered

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Does your mind really make decisions?

Interesting research explained in an easy to understand manner. I recommend this book to anyone who believes that their decisions are based in logic.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Not Vedantam's best work

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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This is an absolute must read if you want to understand and counteract the biases caused by our unconscious or 'hidden' brain.

Spoiler alert....

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Excellent!

I loved it! Intriguing, well-written, and well-researched.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Excellent Review of undecoded memory traces

Great examples of defining what it means to express hidden memory traces that lead to various human behavior...

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reconsidering my motivation

This book makes me reconsider the motivation I've had for so many decisions I've made in life. Substantiated by solid data and interesting narrative. Meaningful application personally, in the Sciences, education and marketing.

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A fascinating listen

This is the sort of book that I wish everyone could read (if not in its entirety, then at least snippets). It's perhaps not earth-shattering in its statements, but does an excellent job of rounding up research and specific examples into interesting, digestible snapshots of the human psyche. As others have noted, those examples can be pretty disturbing and graphic, but alas, that's just how humanity rolls.

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Fascinating Information on Human Instinct

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.