Shankar Vedantam

In 2006, Derek Amato suffered a major concussion from diving into a shallow swimming pool. When he woke up in the hospital, he was different. He discovered he was really good a playing piano.

Lots of people make New Year's resolutions that focus on conserving something. Some people pledge to eat less junk food. Others will commit to saving more money.

Columbia University law professor Tim Wu has a suggestion for something else people should consider conserving: attention. In his new book The Attention Merchants, Tim argues that our mental space is constantly being hijacked.

In today's political climate, it sometimes feels like we can't even agree on basic facts. We bombard each other with stats and figures, hoping that more data will make a difference. A liberal might show you the same climate change graphs over and over; a conservative might point to the trillions of dollars of growing national debt. We're left wondering, "Why can't they just see? It's so obvious!"

It may sound like the plot of a movie: police find a young man dead with stab wounds. Tests quickly show he'd had Ebola.

Officials realize the suspects in the case, men in a local gang, may have picked up and spread Ebola across the slum. These men are reluctant to quarantine themselves and some – including a man nicknamed "Time Bomb" – cannot even be found.

This scenario actually unfolded in the West African country of Liberia in 2015. And what followed was a truly unconventional effort by epidemiologists to stop a new Ebola outbreak.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump has talked an awful lot about fake news this past year, and it's not just the president. Other Republicans use this term. Democrats use it. It has become an increasingly partisan phrase. Don't like something? Call it fake news. Social science research explores how our minds actually push away information that gets in the way of our feelings and desires. NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam talked with our own David Greene about this.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Hi, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Hi, David.

All social classes have unspoken rules.

From A-list celebrities to teachers, doctors, lawyers, and journalists — there are social norms that govern our decisions, whether we realize it or not.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We begin this next item with the question, what is it that makes you you? A person's personality and potential can be tricky things to pinpoint and measure. On today's Morning Edition, NPR's Shankar Vedantam looked at the world of personality testing and what these tests can and cannot tell us about ourselves. And now he explores new research that asks another question - can the ways we categorize people affect not just who they are now, but who they'll become in the future?

In one of the most famous scenes from the Harry Potter series, a group of kids, new to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, line up before an old and crumpled wizard's hat. It is the sorting hat. The hat will tell them which house they'll belong to during their Hogwarts education.

There is something deeply appealing about the sorting hat. It is wise. It seems to know people better than they know themselves.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Every year, many students who have overcome daunting obstacles in high school receive good news — they've been accepted to college.

These kids represent a success story: through hard work and determination, they've made into college, and perhaps even on to a better life.

Except it doesn't always work out that way.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Here's a question - have you ever done a really big workout at the gym, then gone home and gorged yourself on the first unhealthy thing you can find? New research explores why you chose to do that. NPR's social science correspondent, Shankar Vedantam, is here to explain. Shankar, I know none of this.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: (Laughter).

MARTIN: I've never ever done this - worked out and then pigged out. I mean, this is - I do this constantly. And I feel like I've just worked out, and so why can't I have a double cheeseburger?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So many studies have found that early childhood education makes a big difference in the lives of youngsters, we collectively consider it so important. Given that, you might expect that child care providers would be actively looking for teachers who are highly qualified. But new research shows something different. And Shankar Vedantam, NPR's social science correspondent, is here to tell us about it.

Hi, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you mean child care providers don't want the best teachers?

Turn on the TV, and you'll find no shortage of people who claim to know what's going to happen: who's going to get picked for the NBA draft, who will win the next election, which stocks will go up or down.

These pundits and prognosticators all have an air of certainty. And why shouldn't they? We, as the audience, like to hear the world's complexity distilled into simple, pithy accounts. It doesn't help that these commentators rarely pay a serious price when their predictions don't pan out.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Police in London have identified the driver of the van that drove into a group of Muslims outside a mosque yesterday. He is Darren Osborne, a 47-year-old white male. And that profile may be significant in how the media covered the attack. New social science research in the U.S. suggests that in incidents like this, the identity of the attacker has an impact on coverage. NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam explains.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So when you recycle paper or an empty bottle, do you get that warm little feeling because maybe you think, hey, I've done something right for the world? Well, maybe you shouldn't get that feeling because there's some new social science research out there that suggests recycling can have a downside. Why are you always bringing negative news?

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Shankar Vedantam, NPR social science correspondent, here to rain on our recycling parade. Hi, Shankar.

VEDANTAM: Hi, Rachel.

In 1969, Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist from Stanford University, ran an interesting field study. He abandoned two cars in two very different places: one in a mostly poor, crime-ridden section of New York City, and the other in a fairly affluent neighborhood of Palo Alto, Calif. Both cars were left without license plates and parked with their hoods up.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is the season for college admissions letters to go out, which means students from across the country are frantically checking their mailboxes or inboxes in their email. If this year, though, is anything like years past, we'll continue to see a dearth of low-income students admitted to the most selective colleges. New social science research suggests a possible solution, and to explain, we're joined by NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam. Hi, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If you ever tell a lie, it would be normal for your conscience to bother you. But here's a question. If you tell many lies, does that voice inside go quiet? Neuroscientists recently explored this idea. And our colleague Rachel Martin sat down to talk about it with NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hi, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So we're talking about neuroscientists. They were studying the brain, as they are known to do.

VEDANTAM: (Laughter).

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And, you know, all over the world people say they make friends by breaking bread together. There's this assumption that when you sit down to eat with one another, you become closer. Well, let's talk about that with NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam, who is going to break bread with me. Hey, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: (Laughter) Hi, David. How are you?

GREENE: We've broken bread. We're already friends.

VEDANTAM: Indeed.

GREENE: Well, so what's this research you're looking at?

Researchers have long been confused by what seems like a paradox: many people in America vote against their economic self-interests. Whether it's the working class conservative who wants a tax cut for the wealthy, or a member of the liberal elite who fights for safety nets that raise his own taxes — we don't always act in the way that would help us the most.

If you've ever visited the palm-lined neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, you've probably noticed that the rich and famous aren't the only ones drawn there.

Stargazers also flock to this exclusive enclave, seeking a chance to peer into — and fantasize about — the lives of movie stars and film directors.

Call it adulation, adoration, idolization: we humans are fascinated by glamour and power.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So we know that a picture speaks a thousand words, but NPR's Shankar Vedantam is here to tell us how it also gives us really strong impressions of people that we can't seem to shake. Hi, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

Pages