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Most of us would agree that there’s a clear and even obvious connection between the things we believe and the way we behave. But what if our actions are driven not by our conscious values and beliefs but by hidden motivations we’re not even aware of? The “hidden brain” is Shankar Vedantam’s shorthand for a host of brain functions, emotional responses, and cognitive processe Most of us would agree that there’s a clear and even obvious connection between the things we believe and the way we behave. But what if our actions are driven not by our conscious values and beliefs but by hidden motivations we’re not even aware of? The “hidden brain” is Shankar Vedantam’s shorthand for a host of brain functions, emotional responses, and cognitive processes that happen outside our conscious awareness but have a decisive effect on how we behave. The hidden brain has its finger on the scale when we make all our most complex and important decisions: It decides whom we fall in love with, whether we should convict someone of murder, and which way to run when someone yells “Fire!” It explains why we can become riveted by the story of a single puppy adrift on the ocean but are quickly bored by a story of genocide. The hidden brain can also be deliberately manipulated to convince people to vote against their own interests, or even become suicide terrorists. But the most disturbing thing is that it does all this without our knowing. Shankar Vedantam, 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 compulsively readable narratives that take readers from the American campaign trail to terrorist indoctrination camps, from the World Trade Center on 9/11 to, yes, a puppy adrift on the Pacific Ocean, Vedantam illuminates the dark recesses of our minds while making an original argument about how we can compensate for our blind spots and what happens when we don’t.


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Most of us would agree that there’s a clear and even obvious connection between the things we believe and the way we behave. But what if our actions are driven not by our conscious values and beliefs but by hidden motivations we’re not even aware of? The “hidden brain” is Shankar Vedantam’s shorthand for a host of brain functions, emotional responses, and cognitive processe Most of us would agree that there’s a clear and even obvious connection between the things we believe and the way we behave. But what if our actions are driven not by our conscious values and beliefs but by hidden motivations we’re not even aware of? The “hidden brain” is Shankar Vedantam’s shorthand for a host of brain functions, emotional responses, and cognitive processes that happen outside our conscious awareness but have a decisive effect on how we behave. The hidden brain has its finger on the scale when we make all our most complex and important decisions: It decides whom we fall in love with, whether we should convict someone of murder, and which way to run when someone yells “Fire!” It explains why we can become riveted by the story of a single puppy adrift on the ocean but are quickly bored by a story of genocide. The hidden brain can also be deliberately manipulated to convince people to vote against their own interests, or even become suicide terrorists. But the most disturbing thing is that it does all this without our knowing. Shankar Vedantam, 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 compulsively readable narratives that take readers from the American campaign trail to terrorist indoctrination camps, from the World Trade Center on 9/11 to, yes, a puppy adrift on the Pacific Ocean, Vedantam illuminates the dark recesses of our minds while making an original argument about how we can compensate for our blind spots and what happens when we don’t.

30 review for The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nikhil P. Freeman

    Just did not like the book. Covered a lot of ground--most of the things a person would learn in a social psychology class--but the presentation of different biases were lost to verbose anecdotes. The stories to explain the biases would get so long and cumbersome that I would forget his original point--and all of his points I already knew or heard before elsewhere. Every story was literally 50 words too long. I was expecting a more neuroscience driven explanation for unconscious behavior/biases, Just did not like the book. Covered a lot of ground--most of the things a person would learn in a social psychology class--but the presentation of different biases were lost to verbose anecdotes. The stories to explain the biases would get so long and cumbersome that I would forget his original point--and all of his points I already knew or heard before elsewhere. Every story was literally 50 words too long. I was expecting a more neuroscience driven explanation for unconscious behavior/biases, but this was briefly mentioned if at all. To his credit, racial biases and the "terrorist mind" were excellently executed. Would recommend this only if you have never been exposed to any social psychology material (and like long anecdotes to prove points). Reading this in conjunction with Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion will round out the social psychological picture.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    After the way Freud's theories have been discredited, you might think the notion of the unconscious has disappeared from psychology. But Shankar Vedantam, a staff writer for the Washington Post, brilliantly resurrects the concept with modern-day experiments done by social psychologists and brain imaging experts to show how much of our lives is controlled by impulses and biases that we are completely unaware of. For each type of influence exerted by the hidden brain, Vedantam gives gripping example After the way Freud's theories have been discredited, you might think the notion of the unconscious has disappeared from psychology. But Shankar Vedantam, a staff writer for the Washington Post, brilliantly resurrects the concept with modern-day experiments done by social psychologists and brain imaging experts to show how much of our lives is controlled by impulses and biases that we are completely unaware of. For each type of influence exerted by the hidden brain, Vedantam gives gripping examples from real-world experiences, building from personal preferences to large societal trends. Just a couple examples: * To show how hidden gender bias can be, he tells the story of two Stanford professors who were already well known in their fields and went through sex change operations, one to a man and the other to a woman. The woman began to notice how colleagues would interrupt her sentences and angrily challenge her research in ways that never happened when she was male. The man found that his research suddenly earned new respect. * In another chapter, he tells how much of the world became captivated by the story of a puppy left on a drifting oil tanker in the Pacific, sending money in from around the world for its rescue, and contrasted that with the well-known and distressing phenomenon of how the world ignores genocides that kill millions of people. In that case, he points to research which has shown that people not only exhibit more compassion for one individual in distress than for a large group, but will even demonstrate more compassion for one person in laboratory tests than for two or three people with the same problem. I have seen some lukewarm reviews of this book, including a cryptic one in the New York Times (perhaps the hidden brain of the reviewer was influenced by the fact that Vedantam works for the rival Washington Post?), and I don't understand it. This book is built around a fascinating and compelling premise and is filled with good anecdotes and provocative research, all well written. I highly recommend it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Asenath

    This would have received a 4, even a 4.5 up until the last two chapters. Vedantam does a great job with the writing--it's engaging and interesting. However, when I got to the "Defusing the Bomb" chapter, I couldn't help but feel that Vedantam had his own agenda and own point to get across--regardless of science. This chapter is the longest in the book (43 pages) and it is redundant and the actual evidence is weak. Even in the last chapter (about gun control) I felt the shift from presenting evid This would have received a 4, even a 4.5 up until the last two chapters. Vedantam does a great job with the writing--it's engaging and interesting. However, when I got to the "Defusing the Bomb" chapter, I couldn't help but feel that Vedantam had his own agenda and own point to get across--regardless of science. This chapter is the longest in the book (43 pages) and it is redundant and the actual evidence is weak. Even in the last chapter (about gun control) I felt the shift from presenting evidence to supporting Vedantam's own personal opinions, which frustrated me. It made me wonder how much of the rest of the book was simply his opinions. An interesting read with interesting stories, but I wanted to know more about the why of it all, and that was never answered. Well, the answer was "because of our UNCONSCIOUS!" Also, I found it interesting that evolutionary psychology wasn't introduced until the last chapter, when it related to ideas that had been brought up earlier.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    I made an informal pledge to read more nonfiction this year, and I started off with this one. It’s a good thing I really enjoyed the discussions in this book as it makes me more likely to stick to my goal! –Sarah Nicolas from The Best Books We Read In January 2017: http://bookriot.com/2017/02/01/riot-r... I made an informal pledge to read more nonfiction this year, and I started off with this one. It’s a good thing I really enjoyed the discussions in this book as it makes me more likely to stick to my goal! –Sarah Nicolas from The Best Books We Read In January 2017: http://bookriot.com/2017/02/01/riot-r...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    Vedantam's reporting is one of my favorite things on NPR. His beat is the most practical psychology: why do people do that? Actually he reports on insights from many different fields, but the research is always looking at the epidemiology, to borrow his metaphor. Not the medical or social explanation for why some individual did something, but for the broad patterns of brain subroutines working beneath and behind conscious thought: that's the hidden brain. What Vedantam has so brilliantly synthesi Vedantam's reporting is one of my favorite things on NPR. His beat is the most practical psychology: why do people do that? Actually he reports on insights from many different fields, but the research is always looking at the epidemiology, to borrow his metaphor. Not the medical or social explanation for why some individual did something, but for the broad patterns of brain subroutines working beneath and behind conscious thought: that's the hidden brain. What Vedantam has so brilliantly synthesized out of disparate and discrete research is that much of our society is predicated on the belief that people will make rational conscious choices that they are responsible for. Actually, our hidden brain often encourages us to make the wrong choice for ourselves, but it is even more likely to do so for everyone else. When it comes to issues that affect billions of people our hidden brain is at its most destructive. Finding ways around the hidden brain and implicit bias is probably the most important scientific research we can do. We've known for how long about global climate change? Waiting until every single human has been endangered by catastrophic weather enough to believe in it and want to do something about it is too late: but maybe we can learn enough about the hidden brain to effectively appeal to the rational people that we strive to be and bypass the pointless denial. There's something like five vacant American homes for every homeless American. The problem isn't what to do, the problem is convincing the hidden brain to do anything. Oh, and also, the chapters on crowds and disasters could save your life. Like Gift of Fear save your life. Seriously, read this book, if for no other reason than to immunize you to the people who would manipulate your hidden brain for their own ends. Library copy

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mythili

    What I liked about this book: Its storytelling. Vedantam rounds up all kinds of anecdotes and interviews all kinds of characters to look at how the unconscious mind shapes everything from how much a waitress is tipped to whether or not someone is sentenced to death. Particularly fascinating to me was the section on gender discrimination, in which Vedantam contrasts the experiences of two Stanford professors -- one who transitioned from male-to-female and the other who went female-to-male. Powerf What I liked about this book: Its storytelling. Vedantam rounds up all kinds of anecdotes and interviews all kinds of characters to look at how the unconscious mind shapes everything from how much a waitress is tipped to whether or not someone is sentenced to death. Particularly fascinating to me was the section on gender discrimination, in which Vedantam contrasts the experiences of two Stanford professors -- one who transitioned from male-to-female and the other who went female-to-male. Powerful stuff. What I didn't like about this book was the broader argument Vedantam wanted to hammer home. A lot of his examples of the "hidden brain" at work spring from many different kinds of psychological (and sociological) factors, some of which may be subtle but are well-documented, and in the end, not all that mysterious (I didn't get much out of his analysis of racism, for example, and had to agree with the black man in jail who tells him "wake up, you live in America"). Reading this book is like having a conversation with an interesting know-it-all. Not all of the book's arguments are completely accurate or convincing, but there is more than enough good tangential detail to make it worth your time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Faye*

    Very interesting read, especially in combination with my other current book Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race. *** Listening to this for the Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge. Cue: "Back to school: Read a book about a subject you don't know much about." Very interesting read, especially in combination with my other current book Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race. *** Listening to this for the Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge. Cue: "Back to school: Read a book about a subject you don't know much about."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ismail Elshareef

    The author tries to accomplish two things throughout this book: Explain how the hidden brain works and how it influences human behavior. He doesn't, however, explain how the hidden brain has evolved or how it can be changed, which to me is a crucial and expected takeaway when reading about the subject of the hidden, or unconscious, brain. We come to understand through the extensive psychological research put into this book the reasons behind racial biases, prejudices, sexism and suicide bombings The author tries to accomplish two things throughout this book: Explain how the hidden brain works and how it influences human behavior. He doesn't, however, explain how the hidden brain has evolved or how it can be changed, which to me is a crucial and expected takeaway when reading about the subject of the hidden, or unconscious, brain. We come to understand through the extensive psychological research put into this book the reasons behind racial biases, prejudices, sexism and suicide bombings in our collective societies. The author challenges our preconceptions about the "intent" behind these behaviors and explains the real reasons behind their occurrences. The fascinating research shows that our unconscious brain, which is fast and visceral, dictates what our conscious brain, which is rational, deliberate and analytical, does. One of the things the book draws attention to is the spotlight focus (aka tunnel vision) of the conscious brain and how the unconscious brain compensates for that limitation. Our attention is always focused on what we "choose" to focus on. Our unconscious brain's job is to adjust our behavior based on its own processing of the feedback it receives from everything outside our spotlight focus. This explains the distance we keep between each other while perusing artwork at the museum, for example. Another fascinating discovery about the hidden brain is that it is influenced by other hidden brains. Ever wonder why in some situations where someone is attacked the witnesses never intervene to help knowing very well that it's wrong to stand idle? Well, it's because no one took the initiative to intervene, so everyone else followed suit. Individual hidden brains relinquish control to the group's "collective" hidden brain. Same thing explains why some floors on the World Trade Center towers were evacuated on 9/11 and some weren't--not even a single person left those perished floors. My favorite and I believe the most important learning I took away from this book is how the "Tunnel" theory works on the hidden brain. The author argues that suicide bombers, Nazis, Jonestown mass suicide and other violent ideologues out there are not influenced so much by religion or a specific ideology but rather by a "need to belong and to impress others." The "Tunnel" theory is about taking a normal person, isolating her from the outside world, sending her hidden brain consistent and focused messages (aka indoctrinating,) and praising her as a "special" and a "chosen" individual worthy of whatever it is that is promised. The "Tunnel" theory explains how Hitler was able to control a relatively sophisticated and educated society to follow his barbaric ideas. It also explains how nonreligious young Muslims turn into suicide bombers given the right conditions. The hidden brain and the "Tunnel" theory also make me understand the nasty political atmosphere here in America better; The religious fanaticism that exists even within neighborhoods of large and diverse cities. I personally think homeschooling children is a way of using the "Tunnel" theory on their hidden brains, but that's just me. This book is full of great examples on how the hidden brain works. To a discerning reader, the information is vital in understanding human behavior and how to manipulate it. Read it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rabbit {Paint me like one of your 19th century gothic heroines!}

    The Hidden Brain aka the douche bag brain meme tbh. Our brains and bodies are really weird. It gets even worse when you look at the collective hidden brain of societies as a whole, as our species as a whole. We are still responsible for our actions. Instincts/intuition is important, but we need to also have our reason and logic. It's a delicate balance. This book made me want to make memes tbh.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Feisty Harriet

    A little bit "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell, and a little bit "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman, this book explores our unconscious minds, our snap decisions, our "gut" feelings, and how we acquire and even overcome them. Really interesting.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Stock

    The book is full of interesting information, but the presentation is lacking. It is obvious that the author comes from a scientific background, he is often repetitive in relaying the information and not straightforward enough. Overall, interesting but not incredible.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    I can't really improve on Nikhil P. Freeman's Jul 26, 2011 review, so go read that. I will just add that my disappointment with this book is probably due to a mismatch between what it is and what I had wanted it to be. What it is: a lightweight, heavily anecdotal introduction to the idea of implicit bias and unconscious decision-making. What I expected: a more in-depth, scientific exploration of the hows and whys. Vedantam cites many studies I've seen discussed elsewhere in more detail--which ma I can't really improve on Nikhil P. Freeman's Jul 26, 2011 review, so go read that. I will just add that my disappointment with this book is probably due to a mismatch between what it is and what I had wanted it to be. What it is: a lightweight, heavily anecdotal introduction to the idea of implicit bias and unconscious decision-making. What I expected: a more in-depth, scientific exploration of the hows and whys. Vedantam cites many studies I've seen discussed elsewhere in more detail--which makes this a good book for someone who has literally never been exposed to the idea of implicit bias and its relevance in our private and public lives, and never taken the implicit association test--but he also cites himself, referring to his own reporting on these topics more than I care to see. This is more narrative than detached investigation--if you don't believe implicit bias exists, Vedantam won't persuade you; if you do, you already know this stuff and may, like me, be impatient with the storytelling approach. Too much anecdote, not enough science. But in browsing the Notes, you may find links to meatier sources.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Matas

    It wasn't that bad. It had some good points, but nothing mind blowing. To me personally, it lacked depth. It seemed like I was reading a compilation of real life events that can be analyzed in psychological context. And the analysis was average at the very best. The stories where way too long with way too much unnecessary detail. For example: "It was a lovely April morning in South Philadelphia. Raymond Fiss left his home at seven-thirty carrying a brown bag—lunch his wife, Marie, had packed for It wasn't that bad. It had some good points, but nothing mind blowing. To me personally, it lacked depth. It seemed like I was reading a compilation of real life events that can be analyzed in psychological context. And the analysis was average at the very best. The stories where way too long with way too much unnecessary detail. For example: "It was a lovely April morning in South Philadelphia. Raymond Fiss left his home at seven-thirty carrying a brown bag—lunch his wife, Marie, had packed for him. Fiss was a heavy man, two hundred sixty pounds crammed into a five foot eight frame. He slid into his silver and black convertible, and drove away. It was the last time Marie would see him alive." I mean... really...? In a way its understandable, Shankar Vedantam is a science journalist, not a scientist (mistake nr1, attributing a persons profession to who he is and the quality of his work). I usually pick books depending on the reviews and synopsis (these are getting highly misleading) but I can't understand who in their right mind would give this book 5 stars. There's nothing that revealing in the book. Unless we view it as a work of fiction, then yes, the stories portrayed can captivate.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Karmen

    The author introduces an interesting idea - not a new concept but rather names something that has already been discussed. He goes at great length to present the evidence for his claims and he does so mostly by using very detailed stories and forces the reader to take many off-road trips that often make you lose the sight of the point being proved. What really bothers me though, that despite all the details put into stories (often unnecessary too) and despites author's obvious interest in topics o The author introduces an interesting idea - not a new concept but rather names something that has already been discussed. He goes at great length to present the evidence for his claims and he does so mostly by using very detailed stories and forces the reader to take many off-road trips that often make you lose the sight of the point being proved. What really bothers me though, that despite all the details put into stories (often unnecessary too) and despites author's obvious interest in topics of sexism and racism, he leave the reader hanging. Even though the authors represents several obvious examples of sexism, he goes on to claim that there';s no scientific studies/evidence to prove it (which isn't true) and that it could be either way, so it is only an assumption. For someone, who spent almost 50 pages describing the 11th September stories, way past already making his point, he seems very sloppy with looking for evidence for sexism, almost as if he didn't want to present it. I don't feel sorry for reading the book, but wouldn't necessarily recommend it either, as it says little new to anyone with the basic knowledge of psychology.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Virginia

    "The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives," is a fascinating and well-documented expose of what goes on behind the "closed doors" of the human consciousness. Shankar Vedantam brings his journalistic story-telling and researching skills to bear on a fascinating topic, and makes his points powerfully. I found the relatively few instances of evolutionary explanation for our mammalian brain's grip on our biases to be cogent and conv "The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives," is a fascinating and well-documented expose of what goes on behind the "closed doors" of the human consciousness. Shankar Vedantam brings his journalistic story-telling and researching skills to bear on a fascinating topic, and makes his points powerfully. I found the relatively few instances of evolutionary explanation for our mammalian brain's grip on our biases to be cogent and convincing. However, Vedantam acknowledges his limitations in this area, pointing out that his theories are not conclusive. Nonetheless, he documents each instance of unconscious inclination with fascinating stories that turn our consciousnesses onto the track of a new possibility: Do we NOT know our own minds? A triumph of writing and reasoning, and a very important book in the context of the challenges humanity faces, including terrorism, genocide, public policy and sustainable economies and ecosystems.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Pete Wung

    The author, Shankar Vedantam, is the host of the popular NPR program by the same name. He started looking into what he termed the hidden brain when he became curious about many decisions that people made that just didn't make rational sense. He, like everyone else, assumed that we make our best decisions by relying upon our rational mind. He sensed that this was not accurate description of the procedure by which we make all of our decisions and he sought to investigate the process by which we ma The author, Shankar Vedantam, is the host of the popular NPR program by the same name. He started looking into what he termed the hidden brain when he became curious about many decisions that people made that just didn't make rational sense. He, like everyone else, assumed that we make our best decisions by relying upon our rational mind. He sensed that this was not accurate description of the procedure by which we make all of our decisions and he sought to investigate the process by which we make our decisions. He dug into the psychological literature to get at all the existing research on biases and reasons why we usually don’t call upon our conscious or rational brain. The resulting book is a treasure trove of studies and anecdotes that goes to prove his points. Interestingly, this book came out in 2010, before Daniel Kahneman published his tome: Thinking: Fast and Slow and well before David Epstein published Range in 2019. They all investigated the same phenomenon albeit with different means. Vedantam is a journalist, as is Epstein, and Kahneman is a Nobel Prize winning economist. Both Vedantam and Epstein called upon the research of others to draw their conclusions whereas Kahneman had been conducting his own research with Amos Tversky for decades. Vedantam talks about the conscious brain versus the hidden brain when digs in deeper into the research on the subconscious biases and irrational conclusions that we draw when making quick decisions. Kahneman and Epstein uses Kahneman and Tversky terms of System 1 and System 2 thinking. Indeed, conscious brain can is the System 2 and the Hidden brain is the System 1. Vedantam establishes his argument in the first two chapters of the book and then he delves into the studies that he had gathered in the succeeding chapters. He pairs the findings with great stories which integrates nicely with his arguments and each chapter is an enjoyable read which serves a greater purpose: to show the perniciousness of the biases which dominates our hidden brain. He ultimately draws some interesting conclusions in Chapter 10, where he tries to bring everything together. I probably should have known about this book earlier, as I would have read it before I was exposed to the works of the others. Remarkably, The Hidden Brain has withstood the test of rapidly changing knowledge and research into the unconscious mind and still tells a great set of stories which shows us that our decision making prowess is indeed affected by our hidden biases, more importantly, other people, people in positions of authority or in a position to affect lives are also affected by the hidden brain. What is worse, they are not aware about how their hidden brain affects their decisions, or they just don’t care.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    On the surface, this was about the same topic as Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman - the two ways our brain processes information. But this was considerably better. The Kahneman book presented the unconscious brain, responsible for fast thought and (often incorrect) instinctual responses and biases as pretty uniformly bad. This book acknowledged that the unconscious brain or "hidden" brain often makes incorrect decisions, but acknowledged that we cannot stop that from happening. We can On the surface, this was about the same topic as Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman - the two ways our brain processes information. But this was considerably better. The Kahneman book presented the unconscious brain, responsible for fast thought and (often incorrect) instinctual responses and biases as pretty uniformly bad. This book acknowledged that the unconscious brain or "hidden" brain often makes incorrect decisions, but acknowledged that we cannot stop that from happening. We can be aware of it, but it's largely evolutionary thinking that has thousands upon thousands of years of natural selection behind it. Just as in his really interesting podcast, Vedantam presents anecdotes to describe the differing ways our hidden brain affects our thinking and responses, ranging from simple things to serious issues like race bias. It was definitely eye-opening and interesting.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nick Rolston

    This book is based around the principles of "Thinking Fast and Slow" while using Gladwell's anecdotal style from "Talking to Strangers". I was hoping for a bit more substance, as while some of the stories are compelling, I thought that the message could be communicated with a much shorter narrative. In particular, I thought the section on racial bias was long-winded and not as insightful. However, the psychology of groupthink behind the Jonestown cult and lack of reaction during emergency situat This book is based around the principles of "Thinking Fast and Slow" while using Gladwell's anecdotal style from "Talking to Strangers". I was hoping for a bit more substance, as while some of the stories are compelling, I thought that the message could be communicated with a much shorter narrative. In particular, I thought the section on racial bias was long-winded and not as insightful. However, the psychology of groupthink behind the Jonestown cult and lack of reaction during emergency situations—such as hesitancy to leave the Twin Towers during the 9/11 attacks—was fascinating.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I’ve heard Hidden Brain on NPR a lot and I am always fascinated by the topics (and neurology in general) and this was no different. The hidden biases we all have are truly fascinating, and the fact that he didn’t give solutions was actually okay with me. Because there really may not be any. The big drawback here is that these biases are best explained with shorter anecdotes, and the stories here were anything but. I found my mind wandering often. There were lots of different topics, some done bet I’ve heard Hidden Brain on NPR a lot and I am always fascinated by the topics (and neurology in general) and this was no different. The hidden biases we all have are truly fascinating, and the fact that he didn’t give solutions was actually okay with me. Because there really may not be any. The big drawback here is that these biases are best explained with shorter anecdotes, and the stories here were anything but. I found my mind wandering often. There were lots of different topics, some done better than others. Or maybe they were just more interesting to my hidden brain??

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Zu

    Tagore once said “who you are you do not see, what you see is your shadow.” You’ll understand the meaning of this verse when you finished reading this book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nonfiction-- KCM

    In this text, Vedantam employs specific examples in service of his thesis that our unconscious minds control much of our lives and make us naturally behave in ways that are biased and irrational. Most people believe their conscious brains to be in control, when, in reality, deeper forces that relate to group solidarity govern many of our hasty and unexamined decisions. One of Vedantam’s most powerful examples details what happened with people from the same company on the 88th and 89th floors of In this text, Vedantam employs specific examples in service of his thesis that our unconscious minds control much of our lives and make us naturally behave in ways that are biased and irrational. Most people believe their conscious brains to be in control, when, in reality, deeper forces that relate to group solidarity govern many of our hasty and unexamined decisions. One of Vedantam’s most powerful examples details what happened with people from the same company on the 88th and 89th floors of the World Trade Center during 9-11. In the face of extreme danger, Vedantam argues that the hidden brain and its desire for group consensus and conformity drove all people on one floor to flee the building while everyone on the other floor stayed put. In this situation, people fell in line behind the ad-hoc leaders of each floor, as their unconscious minds found a feeling of safety in numbers, regardless of the reality of the situation. In addition to his discussion of people’s desire for group consensus, Vendantam explores the unconscious biases that result in racism and sexism, noting how while the larger statistical numbers clearly indicate that racism and sexism still exist, it’s difficult to prove that these biases are the causes of behavior in individual situations, where a host of other factors can be blamed. The irrationality of gun ownership (people who own guns are not safer) is related to another hidden bias: we feel safer when we believe ourselves to be in control (even if the larger statistical evidence makes this unlikely). The irrationality of spending so much time and money to rescue a single dog left on a damaged oil tanker in international waters, when little attention is paid to genocides (e.g., Darfur), is yet another example of our unconscious bias. When people connect to the highly specific story of a single living creature, they are much more likely to be moved to action. Yet, when presented with evidence of suffering on a much grander scale (as in the case of genocide), they rarely pay attention. Vendantam argues that our evolutionary brains were wired to form deep and personal connections; to fear outsiders and anomalies; not to perceive the world in a rational and analytical fashion. His fitting conclusion is as follows: “Terrorism, psychopaths, and homicide will always seem scarier to us than obesity, smoking, and suicide. The heartbreaking story about the single puppy lost at sea will make us cry more quickly than a dry account of a million children killed by malaria. In every one of these cases, reason is our only rock against the tides of unconscious bias. It is our lighthouse and our life jacket. It is—or should be—our voice of conscience” (255). Interesting Quotations • “Most people equate the term ‘unconscious bias’ with prejudice or partiality, but the new research was using the term differently: ‘Unconscious bias’ described any situation where people’s actions were at odds with their intentions” (4) • “Good people are not those who lack flaws, the brave are not those who feel no fear, and the generous are not those who never feel selfish. Extraordinary people are not extraordinary because they are invulnerable to unconscious bias. They are extraordinary because they choose to do something about it” (8). • “There is abundant research showing that our mood states—comfort and peace, anger and envy—influence our memory and judgement” (15). • Social psychologist Abraham “Tesser found that people feel very powerful resentment when their partners are successful in domains that are integral to their own identity. This resentment is so powerful that volunteers in experiments sabotage their friends and lovers to keep them from doing well at the things the volunteers see as their core strengths” (39). • “Everyday life requires us to suspend rationality, to be mindless about countless risks” (57). • “The extinction event in childhood friendships turns out to be a natural outgrowth of children’s development. Around the time kids are seven or eight, they start to seek out memberships in groups as a way to cement a sense of their own identity. Developing these identities is both normal and important. Racial identity is only one of the many dimensions children gravitate toward. They also start to identify with sports teams, with cultures, and with nations” (79). • “If children can be encouraged to form loyalties to groups that transcend race—to a nation or a school or even a sports team—parents and educators can harness the automatic biases of the mind to drive children from different races together, rather than apart” (81). • “What mostly changes between [childhood and adulthood] are not the associations of the hidden brain but the ability of the conscious mind to restrain those associations” (82). • “When people cannot control their hidden brains—because they are young and immature, or because they are adults whose minds are temporarily distracted, or because they are elderly and literally losing brain matter—they are more vulnerable to the associations that are always present in the hidden brain” (87). • “When an alarm goes off, it triggers anxiety, and the hidden brain instructs you to turn to the group because groups provided our ancestors with comfort and safety more often than they exposed them to danger and risk” (127). • The process of radicalization can be explained by the metaphor of a tunnel: “The central feature of a tunnel is that it seals off the outside world. In our everyday lives, we are pulled in multiple directions. Conflicting responsibilities, clashing opinions, and the cacophony of a polyglot culture create stress in our lives, but they also keep us from seeing things in unidimensional terms. When people enter the suicide bombers’ tunnel, they are deprived—either by design or by accident—of the usual tugs of the outside world” (152). • “Media representations of criminals and welfare recipients are often skewed. Media coverage regularly reflects existing stereotypes . . .” (205). • “Aberrational things done by people in a highly visible minority group stick up in our minds more dramatically than aberrational things done by members of a majority group. The technical term for this phenomenon is an illusory correlation” (206). • “The researchers Richard P. Eibach and Joyce Ehrlinger have shown that a central reason why whites and blacks in America have very different impressions about the state of racial progress is that whites unconsciously compare the state of race relations with the past . . . [the researchers found that] blacks, on the other hand, unconsciously compare the status quo with an idealized future where discrimination does not exist; for the young black man or woman who suffers subtle forms of discrimination in the workplace, it isn’t much consolation to say things were worse two hundred years ago” (220). • Regarding gun ownership: “The combined risks of accidents, suicide, and domestic violence dwarfs the risk of homicide at the hands of a stranger” (236). • “Suicide rates in states with high levels of gun ownership are much higher than in states that have low levels of gun ownership. Alabama, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and New Mexico have twice the rate of suicide of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, and New York. The United States as a whole has a very high suicide rate compared to other industrialized countries” (238). • “Our unconscious minds are exquisitely tuned to the unexpected, violent attack we are always on the lookout for strange and exotic threats. We are always on the lookout for strange and exotic threats. In our evolutionary history, this made sense” (241). • “The dumb algorithms in our hidden brain are not programmed to trigger panic when it comes to the risks we pose ourselves . . . Unconscious bias explains why so many of our fears—and national policies—are completely detached from reality . . . We have carried our Stone Age brain into the Internet Age. It is Stone Age thinking that prompts us to spend so much of our national budget fighting terrorism and so little on the everyday diseases and threats that kill many, many more Americans in the years to come” (242). • “[O]ur inability to wrap our minds around large numbers is responsible for our apathy toward mass suffering. We are unconsciously biased in our moral judgment, in much the same way we are biased when we think about risk” (249). • “The philosopher Pete Singer once devised a dilemma that highlights a central contradiction in our moral reasoning. If you see a child drowning in a pond, and you know you can save a child without any risk to your own life—but you would ruin a fine pair of shoes worth two hundred dollars if you jumped into the water—would you save the child or your shoes? Most people react incredulously to the question; obviously a child’s life is worth more than a pair of shoes. If this is the case, Singer asked, why do large numbers of people hesitate to write a check for two hundred dollars to a reputable charity that could save the life of a child . . .” (249). Note: This review contains direct quotations from the text as a way of giving potential readers a taste of the content and style as originally expressed. Because my purpose is educational and because the quoted portion of this text is a small fraction of the overall creative work, it’s my understanding that my posting is protected by “fair use” laws. For short summaries and quotations from a variety of fictional texts, please visit my blog: https://kmakiblog.wordpress.com/

  22. 4 out of 5

    Feng Ouyang

    1. Introduction a. Unconscious bias: we do things that are not consistent with our rational intention. b. Story of mis-identification, teaching us a few lessons i. Even when a person who is deliberate in nature and want to be especially deliberate under the circumstance, she can still be tricked by subconscious ii. We pay attention to the unusual and ignore the usual. iii. Discomfort helps us to focus on rational cognitive tasks. Being comfortable means we let subconscious take control. iv. Tragic res 1. Introduction a. Unconscious bias: we do things that are not consistent with our rational intention. b. Story of mis-identification, teaching us a few lessons i. Even when a person who is deliberate in nature and want to be especially deliberate under the circumstance, she can still be tricked by subconscious ii. We pay attention to the unusual and ignore the usual. iii. Discomfort helps us to focus on rational cognitive tasks. Being comfortable means we let subconscious take control. iv. Tragic results can happen when a sequence of wrong decisions are made. These decisions are not driven by bad motives or prejudice, but unconscious bias. c. We know a lot about unconscious brain now, to the extent that a more appropriate question seems to be why we even have a conscious mind. d. It is easy to understand that subconscious mind controls routine activities and conscious mind deals with novel and unexpected situations. However, subconscious mind often applies “experience”, or heuristic rules, to the wrong situations. e. Even if we have full knowledge about subconscious mind, we still cannot be aware of the manipulation of our decisions and cognitive activities from the subconscious activities. It’s just human nature that we may be able to understand but can never change. 2. Subconscious Examples a. Story of honor-payment and watching eyes: environmental cues affect your behavior even if you don’t consciously notice them. b. Story of stock price and pronunciation of company names: ease of pronunciation induces sense of comfort and acceptance. c. Story of mimicking each other during conversation: subconscious cues and responses play important role in interpersonal interactions. d. Story of the scientist couple: jealousy is caused by subconscious selfish impulses. We can redirect such impulse by establishing a “we” mentality: link interests and achievements of the two together. 3. People with mental disorders a. Frontal Lobe Dementia: people who cannot observe social norms. Social norm and even law-abiding are mostly subconscious functionalities. b. A lot of social norms and social sensitivity functions depend on subconscious processing. c. It would be helpful to design laws that appeal to people’s subconscious instinct of following social norm. For example, the “eyes” picture in coffee room makes people more likely to pay, because they do not want to be viewed by others as cheaters. 4. Racial and other prejudices a. Humans have special ability of focusing on and recognizing faces i. Infants seem to be born with such ability. ii. Studies found special region in brain for face recognition. iii. When we see something resembling child face we feel pleasant and comfortable. That’s why people like panda and Mickey Mouse. b. Racial identity and prejudice i. Our childhood experience makes us better in recognizing people with the same race, and feel more identified with those faces. This is a subconscious bias towards our own races. ii. On the other hand, in white-dominant suburbs, children are exposed more to positive images of the white people. They tend to associate positive adjectives to whites, and negative ones to blacks. This is subconscious influence. iii. We grow up with a subconscious idea of what is “normal”. This is the people or behavior we see most, not necessarily what we are. For example, a gay person may still think straight is the normal and positive. iv. Such subconscious bias or prejudice is more apparent in children because they don’t suppress them with rational thinking. But they actually exist in all of us. c. Subconscious segregation i. Segregation into racial groups usually happens in 7th grade. It is not that all of sudden people start to hate other races. It’s due to small subconscious bias in choosing new friends. Since friendship turnover rate is very high at that age, over times your friend circle becomes more homogeneous, under a small bias. ii. Racial prejudice is connected with in-group mentality, which is another subconscious process, when people form strong bias for or against people based on their group identities. Therefore, one way to counter racial prejudice is forming inter-racial groups and let people frame their identity differently. iii. [Unfortunately, for immigrants, they will be “out” in many group settings.] d. Subconscious prejudice for adults i. Various researches and observations show that adults have the same subconscious biases. They can suppress them with conscious considerations. ii. However, when conscious control is weak (e.g. when they are tired or under pressure), their subconscious bias would show. This does not mean they are bad people, just people with weaker control. 5. Sex Prejudice a. People have stereotypes of leaders and women, and they are in conflict. So people have trouble accepting women leaders. They are either not feminine enough or leader-like enough. b. Experiences of transgender people before and after gender transition show clear evidences of sex prejudice: women are taken less seriously, bullied more, and denied opportunities for advancement. 6. Conformation in disaster time a. When facing crime, most people won’t stand up and aid the victim. b. When facing disasters or emergency situations, people tend to follow consensus on what to do, instead of making their own decisions. They tend to follow the crowd to one of the few exists. c. Such conformation tendency stem from two unconscious desires: heroic (not to escape alone) and comfort (do what others do, although knowing full well that they don’t know any better). d. We can imagine a person in emergency being tugged by other people’s actions. Such tug depends on the current closeness between the people and their prior relationships. 7. Terrorists a. Terrorists are not motivated by ideology or religion, but small-group dynamics: we seek approval and respect from our peers. b. The “tunnel” process of recruiting: isolate the recruited from the outside world, tie his self-esteem to the “cause”, etc. Very similar to the cultural revolution in China. 8. Bias in Criminal Justice System a. Statistics and case studies show jury bias against black suspects in both conviction and sentence. b. The bias extends to the whole justice systems including police, prosecutors, judges and lawyers. 9. Bias of Voters a. Hidden bias and implicit association: people (both black and white) tend to associate blacks with negative things such as crime. b. One can speculate that such bias affects election results. c. Association also color some of the seemingly racially-neutral topics such as crime and welfare, as people associate criminals and welfare recipients with certain race. d. Fascinating story about Obama teams trying to fight implicit bias against his race in 2008. 10. Telescope effect a. People don't have intuitive sense on Small probability events. They tend to think things they are familiar with are more likely to happen, and discount things they have some control over, believing they are better than average. b. People don’t have intuitive sense on large numbers. They feel more connected to situations of individuals than to a large group of people. This affects some moral choices and people’s willingness to donate to humanity causes.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jose Lobato

    It is the second time I read this book, and indeed, it won't be the last. "The Hidden Brain" is still one of my favorites texts. The last time I read this book, in fact, I did not "read" it, I listen to it. At the time I was running a lot and remember not stopping running until the chapter was finished. I also remember my expressions as some of the data was discovered in the book. All of the chapters are gold, but the last ones are just inspiring. The data giving and the reasoning around it makes It is the second time I read this book, and indeed, it won't be the last. "The Hidden Brain" is still one of my favorites texts. The last time I read this book, in fact, I did not "read" it, I listen to it. At the time I was running a lot and remember not stopping running until the chapter was finished. I also remember my expressions as some of the data was discovered in the book. All of the chapters are gold, but the last ones are just inspiring. The data giving and the reasoning around it makes me feel small and encourage me to train myself better to live in this world. In my opinion, everyone will benefit from reading this excellent book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    I'm a fan of the Shankar Vedantam-helmed Hidden Brain podcast, and this book is written around similar themes. In popular culture the subconscious is often used to explain away hidden desires or true intentions, but Vedantam probes into the idea that these beliefs can be more largely explained in the context of a group. The "hidden brain" is responsible for a lot of troubling narratives surrounding why humanity isn't more moral or caring on a pragmatic level. At first this is hard to reconcile - I'm a fan of the Shankar Vedantam-helmed Hidden Brain podcast, and this book is written around similar themes. In popular culture the subconscious is often used to explain away hidden desires or true intentions, but Vedantam probes into the idea that these beliefs can be more largely explained in the context of a group. The "hidden brain" is responsible for a lot of troubling narratives surrounding why humanity isn't more moral or caring on a pragmatic level. At first this is hard to reconcile - it's a very human disease to assume total autonomy. But if you can shed that kind of mental block this book begins to function almost like a self-help manual as it continually asserts the importance of not taking anything completely at face value. The anecdotes are eminently readable, and having Vedantam's voice in mind while reading added depth to the experience.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    This book is about "the hidden brain" or the unconscious biases from the old Stone Age brain that influence us everyday. It used neuroscience and psycholgy to give a balanced an throughtful view of events and behaviors. Whether it was guns do more harm through suicide and accidents in the home that defending the home from danger to people seeking consensus in a diaster or how it influences criminal sentencing. For me the biggest take away is that we're all racist - even me. It made me reevaluate This book is about "the hidden brain" or the unconscious biases from the old Stone Age brain that influence us everyday. It used neuroscience and psycholgy to give a balanced an throughtful view of events and behaviors. Whether it was guns do more harm through suicide and accidents in the home that defending the home from danger to people seeking consensus in a diaster or how it influences criminal sentencing. For me the biggest take away is that we're all racist - even me. It made me reevaluate racial biases. It also explained why and how Obama was so good at avoiding the angry black man stigma and getting elected. The analysis about ads aimed at working class white people with hidden racial biases were interesting.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    Really insightful book. It gets a bit off-track on long stories to prove points, such as with the Jonestown cult chapter, but that was interesting and I hadn't read about it much before, so I didn't mind too much. Sometimes, the author can be repetitive in making points. But on the whole, it's a great expose of how and why people unconsciously can be prejudiced and make bad decisions and being aware of this can help us more critically think why we feel how we feel about certain issues.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    Vedantam tackles tough issues such as racism and genocide and shows how our "hidden brain" with its systems that evolved over many centuries to tackle survival issues may be influencing our decision making without our conscious awareness. Probably the most interesting chapter for me was the one on terrorists and what drives their behavior. Provocative, well-written and, in the final analysis, optimistic about our chances of a better, more moral world.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    This book gives well-researched insights into how our unconscious thought processes have an impact on everything from how we vote to our reaction (or lack thereof) to genocide. Especially valuable are its policy implications and examples of how this knowledge can be used to influence others. Vedantam does a great job of pointing out what is hopeful and what is disturbing in these discoveries and their implications.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Very interesting discussion of how our unconcious minds work- causing us to sometimes make decisions that are not based on our best interests, or on completely erroneous "facts" that are actually biases that we're not even aware of. It's a bit frustrating to think about how our own brains may be sabotaging our better judgement at times, but I guess it's good to be aware of it so that better judgement can prevail.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Grayson

    I know a fair amount about social psychology, but the way the author and the scientists he cites apply their knowledge to major societal problems is mind blowing. I absolutely loved this book, and recommend it to anyone interested in racism, terrorism, and other problems of modern life. It's brilliant.

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