Shankar Vedantam

Shankar Vedantam is a science correspondent for NPR. 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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It's All Politics
2:04 am
Wed August 22, 2012

Are Independents Just Partisans In Disguise?

Don Nichols iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed August 22, 2012 6:31 am

Independent voters have grown in recent years into a mega voting bloc. By some estimates they outnumber registered Republicans, and even registered Democrats.

Every election cycle, independents generate enormous amounts of interest as candidates, pollsters and the media probe their feelings. These voters are widely considered to hold the key to most elections.

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Shots - Health Blog
2:29 am
Mon August 6, 2012

An Anthropologist Walks Into A Bar And Asks, 'Why Is This Joke Funny?'

Amateur comedian Robert Lynch takes the mic at the Metropolitan Room in New York City on July 21. Lynch is also an evolutionary anthropologist who is studying what laughter reveals about us.
Melanie Burford for NPR

Originally published on Thu August 9, 2012 3:26 pm

It's Saturday night at the Metropolitan Room, a comedy club in New York City. Host Jimmy Failla is warming up the crowd.

"Where you guys from?" he asks one group in the audience. "Boston? Home of the Red Sox. Personally, we'd prefer you rooted for the Taliban!"

There are 50 or 60 people in the audience, sipping cocktails. Failla has a system. He asks people where they're from. Most are locals. He then hits them with something they can relate to.

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The Torch
4:05 am
Fri August 3, 2012

Would You Rather Win Silver Or Bronze? (Be Careful What You Wish For)

all-around gymnastics final." href="/post/would-you-rather-win-silver-or-bronze-be-careful-what-you-wish" class="noexit lightbox">
Who's The Happiest? Researchers studied photos of Olympic medalists to learn who is the happiest. Here, bronze medalist Aliya Mustafina of Russia, gold medalist Gabby Douglas of the U.S., and silver medalist Victoria Komova of Russia pose after the all-around gymnastics final.
Julian Finney Getty Images

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 8:32 am

Both athletes were U.S. swimmers, both were dripping wet after finishing an Olympics final, and both had just won medals.

The first said, "It's not my normal specialty. ... We went out there and raced tough – and just came up a little short."

The second had a beaming face. He said, "[I] swam my own race. And knew I had a lane, and had an opportunity, and I went for it. It worked out, you know, it's just awesome that I get to go on the podium tonight. Honestly, I'm really proud of myself!"

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Shots - Health Blog
3:46 pm
Tue July 24, 2012

Tie My Shoes, Please: How Persuasion Works

Can You Help Me Tie My Shoe? Researchers found that when study participants were asked an unusual request, they were more likely later on to perform a favor.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue July 24, 2012 4:23 pm

Marketers, managers and panhandlers all have something in common: They regularly want to make you do things they want. Marketers want you to buy stuff, managers want you to finish projects on time, and panhandlers want you to spare a buck, or three.

Over the years, psychologists have studied the techniques of manipulation and found several that seem to work. (Read on only if you agree to use these techniques for good and not for evil!)

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Humans
3:58 pm
Thu July 12, 2012

How Stereotypes Can Drive Women To Quit Science

Ayodhya Ouditt NPR

Originally published on Thu July 12, 2012 7:29 pm

Walk into any tech company or university math department, and you'll likely see a gender disparity: Fewer women than men seem to go into fields involving science, engineering, technology and mathematics.

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Family Matters: The Money Squeeze
1:57 am
Tue May 29, 2012

Listening To Parents Key To Financial Responsibility

Parents can make a difference in whether their kids become spenders or savers, studies find.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue May 29, 2012 3:34 am

As an increasing number of Americans live into their 80s and 90s, many families are struggling to find ways to make retirement dollars — that were once supposed to support seniors for years — now stretch over decades.

More and more, families have to care for the very elderly, as well as look after children who might be college grads but haven't found a job in a difficult economy.

All this requires one very important thing: lots of money.

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It's All Politics
2:42 am
Wed May 9, 2012

Partisan Psychology: Why Are People Partial To Political Loyalties Over Facts?

President Bush and then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry shake hands at the end of a presidential debate in 2004 in St. Louis. Researchers want to better understand why partisans' views of the facts change in light of their political loyalties.
Charlie Reidel AP

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 9:32 am

When pollsters ask Republicans and Democrats whether the president can do anything about high gas prices, the answers reflect the usual partisan divisions in the country. About two-thirds of Republicans say the president can do something about high gas prices, and about two-thirds of Democrats say he can't.

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Humans
2:04 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Put Away The Bell Curve: Most Of Us Aren't 'Average'

Hank Aaron breaks Babe Ruth's record for career home runs as he hits No. 715 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on April 8, 1974, on his way to a career 755 home runs. Research suggests that in a wide variety of professions, including collegiate and professional sports, a small but significant number of individuals perform exceedingly well and the rest of individuals' performance trails off.
AP

Originally published on Thu May 3, 2012 10:06 pm

For decades, teachers, managers and parents have assumed that the performance of students and employees fits what's known as the bell curve — in most activities, we expect a few people to be very good, a few people to be very bad and most people to be average.

The bell curve powerfully shapes how we think of human performance: If lots of students or employees happen to show up as extreme outliers — they're either very good or very bad — we assume they must represent a skewed sample, because only a few people in a truly random sample are supposed to be outliers.

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Sports
2:01 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Power (Dis)Play? Teams In Black Draw More Penalties

Keith Ballard, right, of the Vancouver Canucks is tripped by Colin Fraser of the Los Angeles Kings for a penalty during game in Los Angeles on April 18. Researchers studying hockey penalties found that teams wearing black jerseys were far more likely to draw penalties than teams wearing other colored or white jerseys.
Harry How Getty Images

Originally published on Thu April 26, 2012 8:21 am

Hockey teams wearing darker-colored jerseys are more likely to be penalized for aggressive fouls than teams wearing white jerseys, according to new research. Teams wearing black jerseys in particular get penalized the most, according to an analysis that may offer a window into the hidden psychological dynamics of the ongoing NHL playoffs.

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All Tech Considered
2:30 am
Thu April 19, 2012

To Read All Those Web Privacy Policies, Just Take A Month Off Work

Many Web users have little idea about how, or when, they're being tracked. In this 2011 photo, Max Schrems of Austria sits with 1,222 pages about his activities on Facebook — the company gave him the file after he requested it under European law.
Ronald Zak AP

Originally published on Thu April 19, 2012 4:08 am

Internet surfers have long worried that they have insufficient control over their online privacy — despite the privacy policies many people agree to when they visit websites or use online services.

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Shots - Health Blog
4:21 pm
Fri April 6, 2012

FDA's Stance On Online Pharmacies May Go Too Far, Study Says

Each year, millions of Americans don't fill their prescriptions because they can't afford to.
Maya Kovacheva Photography iStockphoto.com

The Food and Drug Administration has warned people about the many dangers of buying medications from foreign pharmacies over the Internet. While some sites might offer high-quality medicines, there are plenty that sell bogus and potentially dangerous products.

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The Salt
3:12 pm
Fri April 6, 2012

Indian Engineers Build A Stronger Society With School Lunch Program

The Akshaya Patra Foundation, a nonprofit based in Bangalore, partners with the government to make close to 1.3 million nutritious meals a day for schoolchildren throughout India.
Ryan Lobo for NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:54 am

At a government-run public middle school in Bangalore, the blackboard's cracking, the textbooks are tattered and most of the students are barefoot.

But with all those challenges, the biggest obstacle that teachers face in keeping kids in school is hunger. Many students show up at school having had nothing to eat for breakfast.

On mornings one student comes to school hungry, the thought of school makes her break down, she says.

"When I had to get on the bus, I would start crying," says K. Suchitra, 13.

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It's All Politics
2:05 am
Tue April 3, 2012

Do Negative Ads Make A Difference? Political Scientists Say Not So Much

Future U.S. senator and presidential candidate John Kerry poses with crewmates during the Vietnam War in this file photo. An attack on his service by a group calling itself the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is remembered as a turning point in the 2004 election. But political scientists say negative ads might not be that effective.
AP

Originally published on Wed April 4, 2012 1:01 pm

Pundits and commentators are forecasting that this fall's general election will see an avalanche of negative advertising. But as voters gird for the onslaught, political scientists are asking a different question: Will it matter?

When the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on private advertising in elections, superPACs supporting President Obama and the most likely Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, promised to unleash negative attacks on the other side.

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Shots - Health Blog
3:27 am
Tue March 20, 2012

How Do Racial Attitudes Affect Opinions About The Health Care Overhaul?

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act in the East Room of the White House on March 23, 2010. Data suggest that racial attitudes of ordinary Americans shape both how they feel about the health care overhaul and how intense those feelings are.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Tue March 20, 2012 7:31 am

As the Supreme Court gets ready to hear a case involving the constitutionality of President Obama's health care overhaul, social scientists are asking a disturbing — and controversial — question: Do the intense feelings about the health care overhaul among ordinary Americans stem from their philosophical views about the appropriate role of government, or from their racial attitudes about the signature policy of the country's first black president?

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Still No Job: Over A Year Without Enough Work
3:29 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

Marriage Economy: 'I Couldn't Afford To Get Divorced'

iStockphoto.com

Lindsay Reynolds lives in Waterloo, Wis. Even before the recent economic downturn, Reynolds and her husband struggled to make ends meet. They quarreled, especially over money.

"We never had enough income to pay bills, to pay rent. We were constantly late on rent," Reynolds says. "He always wanted to go do things. He wanted to go buy things. And I said, 'No, we can't. We have to be fiscally responsible.' "

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Shots - Health Blog
4:16 am
Mon December 5, 2011

What's Behind A Temper Tantrum? Scientists Deconstruct The Screams

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu December 8, 2011 7:46 am

Children's temper tantrums are widely seen as many things: the cause of profound helplessness among parents; a source of dread for airline passengers stuck next to a young family; a nightmare for teachers. But until recently, they had not been considered a legitimate subject for science.

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The Salt
11:01 pm
Mon October 3, 2011

Eating Meals With Men May Mean Eating Less

It turns out that the gender of your dining companions makes a big difference in what you eat and how much you eat. The new research on dining habits — although small — adds a new dimension to the study of risk factors for obesity, and could also shed new light on eating disorders such as anorexia.

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