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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
    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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
    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

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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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent!

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

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
  • JC
  • 12-07-12

rated R: some disturbingly violent content

What would have made The Hidden Brain better?

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.

What could Shankar Vedantam have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

a book without violent examples

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Steve West?

the narrator was fine

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Hidden Brain?

the violent ones, especially when the guy beats the woman to her death with all the people watching.

Any additional comments?

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.

7 of 13 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Good case studies - poor narration

The material is good but the narrator sounds like a middle school boy reading a book report.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • X. Zu
  • State College, PA United States
  • 05-19-18

Super enlightening

Only quoting Tagore “ who you are you do not see, what you see if your shadow.”

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Grace W
  • Commerce City, CO United States
  • 05-18-18

Great book, monotonous reader...

I love, love, love this book. I wish Shankar Venantam had read it, he is so engaging. The science is fascinating and the stories are engaging--the reader has such an flat, monotonus voice that I thought for sure it was a voice to text computer reading (it's not). I would find my mind wandering---I finally got the hard copy book and was so engaged I whizzed through it, reading with Shankar's voice in my head.