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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1:21pm

Thu October 25, 2012
Humans

Decision Time: Why Do Some Leaders Leave A Mark?

Originally published on Fri October 26, 2012 12:56 pm

Abraham Lincoln, circa 1850. Lincoln was a political non-entity before he was elected. Why is he more widely known to history than the presidents who came immediately before and after him?
Hulton Archive Getty Images

As part of NPR's coverage of this year's presidential election, All Things Considered asked three science reporters to weigh in on the race. The result is a three-part series on the science of leadership. In Part 1, Alix Spiegel looked at the personalities of American presidents. In Part 2, Jon Hamilton examined leadership in the animal kingdom.

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2:31am

Tue October 9, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

A Lively Mind: Your Brain On Jane Austen

Originally published on Tue October 16, 2012 10:35 am

Matt Langione, a subject in the study, reads Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Results from the study suggest that blood flow in the brain differs during leisurely and critical reading activities.
L.A. Cicero Stanford University

At a recent academic conference, Michigan State University professor Natalie Phillips stole a glance around the room. A speaker was talking but the audience was fidgety. Some people were conferring among themselves, or reading notes. One person had dozed off.

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3:28am

Thu September 20, 2012
Science

Why Pictures Can Sway Your Moral Judgment

Originally published on Thu September 20, 2012 9:41 am

iStockphoto.com

When we think about morality, many of us think about religion or what our parents taught us when we were young. Those influences are powerful, but many scientists now think of the brain as a more basic source for our moral instincts.

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3:01am

Wed September 19, 2012
Education

Do Scores Go Up When Teachers Return Bonuses?

Originally published on Wed September 19, 2012 8:47 pm

An incentive system that gave bonuses to teachers upfront, with the threat of having to give the money back if student performance didn't improve, proved effective in one study.
David Franklin iStockphoto.com

In Chicago, parents were fuming over a weeklong strike by teachers. Around the rest of the country, in the face of growing evidence that many U.S. students are falling behind, administrators have tried to devise different ways to motivate teachers.

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3:39am

Wed September 12, 2012
The Salt

Five Ways To Spot A Fake Online Review, Restaurant Or Otherwise

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 2:47 pm

One sign that a restaurant review is a fake is if it gives a very high or very low rating without many specifics.
Bill Oxford iStockphoto.com

Thinking of going to a nice restaurant? Before you decide, you probably go online and read reviews of the place from other customers (or you listen to these actors read them to you). Online reviews of restaurants, travel deals, apps and just about anything you want to buy have become a powerful driver of consumer behavior. Unsurprisingly, they have also created a powerful incentive to cheat.

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3:27am

Tue August 28, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Can You Learn While You're Asleep?

Originally published on Fri August 31, 2012 9:44 am

Research suggests basic forms of learning are possible while snoozing.
iStockphoto.com

If you're a student, you may have harbored the fantasy of learning lessons while you sleep. Who wouldn't want to stick on a pair of headphones, grab some shut-eye with a lesson about, say, Chinese history playing in his ears — and wake up with newly acquired knowledge of the Ming Dynasty?

Sadly, it doesn't work. The history lesson either keeps you from going to sleep, or it doesn't — in which case you don't learn it.

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3:04am

Wed August 22, 2012
It's All Politics

Are Independents Just Partisans In Disguise?

Originally published on Wed August 22, 2012 7:31 am

Don Nichols iStockphoto.com

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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3:29am

Mon August 6, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

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

Originally published on Thu August 9, 2012 4:26 pm

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

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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4:57am

Fri August 3, 2012
The Torch

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

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 9:32 am

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

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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4:46pm

Tue July 24, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Tie My Shoes, Please: How Persuasion Works

Originally published on Tue July 24, 2012 5:23 pm

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

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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