Up Close With NPR’s Shankar Vedantam And His Hidden Brain

Oct 31, 2019

NPR’s Shankar Vedantam (right) is an author, lecturer, host, and correspondent. He specializes in reporting on human behavior and social sciences.
Credit NPR

NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast recently celebrated its fourth anniversary, and the radio show is now two years old. We regularly hear the host, Shankar Vedantam, on Morning Edition as NPR's social science correspondent.

Vedantam also wrote the book, The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives.

We recently spoke with him about his work.

WFSU: Have you found anything surprising in your own hidden brain? 

Vedantam: I think I find my own hidden brain surprising all the time. I think of myself as being a very rational, deliberate person; and then I find that I have all these things in my head that make me do things that are not rational. So I'm constantly amazed at my own brain. I sometimes joke that "Hidden Brain," the show, is really a compendium of my various neuroses and mental shortcomings.

WFSU: You have a really interesting and varied background. Did you imagine a career like this one?

Vedantam: I could not have imagined a career like this one because of course, the "Hidden Brain" podcast couldn't have existed 20 years ago, right? The invention of podcasts required the invention of smartphones; it required the invention of the internet, and none of those things existed when I went to college.

I often use this when I talk to high school and middle school students to tell them, you know, it's very hard for you to anticipate what your career is going to look like 20 or 30 years down the road because the world is going to be entirely different.

WFSU: There’s been a push in Florida for more college graduates with STEM degrees – science, technology, engineering, math. Do you think that’s a good path, or do you think there’s a better alternative?    

Vedantam: I have been a science journalist for many years so I certainly think that studying science, technology, engineering, and math is a wonderful thing. I think these are skills that many people should have even if you're not pursuing STEM careers.

These are incredibly powerful tools to understand and control the world that we live in everyday. Where I think I part ways with some of the people who are STEM advocates is in whether you should also be doing other things as well. I think it really is important when you're in college and in high school to try and get a broad-based education.

Take classes in the humanities, take classes in the arts, learn a musical instrument, take writing classes. Learn to be a better writer because being a better writer forces you to become a better thinker.