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.
"Washington Post science journalist Vedantam theorizes that there's a hidden world in our heads filled with unconscious biases, often small, hidden errors in thinking that manipulate our attitudes and actions without our knowing it. Autonomy is a myth, he says, because knowledge and rational intention are not responsible for our choices. This thesis is not news since Freud, psychologists have taken the unconscious into account but Vedanta argues that if we are influenced sometimes, then why not all the time, whether we're launching a romance or a genocide. This is a frightening leap in logic. In anecdotal, journalistic prose, we learn that, through bias, rape victims can misidentify their attacker; people are more honest even with just a subtle indication that they are being watched; polite behavior has to do with the frontotemporal lobes rather than with how one was raised; and that we can be unconsciously racist and sexist. Though drawing on the latest psychological research, Vedantam's conclusions are either trite or unconvincing." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
From a "Washington Post" columnist comes an original and deeply engaging investigation into the role of the hidden brain--the parts of the mind concealed from conscious awareness but responsible for controlling decision making.
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.