Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Shankar Vedantam brings his critical eye to a question that has haunted scientists and writers for centuries: Does the unconscious matter, and if so, how? With a light touch, the book takes us through the complicated landscape of research on psychology and human behavior. We come away not only understanding how we act, but Vedantam moves past mainstream economic reasoning to shed light on the relationships we create with each other. The book addresses the madness and beauty of our struggles to create a moral and just world." Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets
"In The Hidden Brain, one of America's best science journalists describes how our unconscious minds influence everything from criminal trials to charitable giving, from suicide bombers to presidential elections. The Hidden Brain is a smart and engaging exploration of the science behind the headlines — and of the little man behind the screen. Don't miss it." Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
The hidden brain is the voice in our ear when we make the most important decisions in our lives — but we’re never aware of it. The hidden brain decides whom we fall in love with and whom we hate. It tells us to vote for the white candidate and convict the dark-skinned defendant, to hire the thin woman but pay her less than the man doing the same job. It can direct us to safety when disaster strikes and move us to extraordinary acts of altruism. But it can also be manipulated to turn an ordinary person into a suicide terrorist or a group of bystanders into a mob.
In a series of compulsively readable narratives, Shankar Vedantam journeys through the latest discoveries in neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral science to uncover the darkest corner of our minds and its decisive impact on the choices we make as individuals and as a society. Filled with fascinating characters, dramatic storytelling, and cutting-edge science, this is an engrossing exploration of the secrets our brains keep from us — and how they are revealed.
About the Author
Shankar Vedantam is a national correspondent and columnist for the Washington Post and a 2009 Neimann Fellow. He lives in Washington, DC.