Many people are fascinated by understanding how our brain works and why we behave the way we do. NPR’s Social Science Correspondent Shankar Vedantam has been reporting on psychology and human behavior research for over 25 years, and he has a plethora of information and experience that we can learn from.
Shankar Vedantam hosts the Hidden Brain podcast where he uses both science and storytelling to explain how unconscious patterns in the brain can factor into different human behaviors including how we make decisions and how we form relationships with those around us.
Hidden Brain is one of the most successful podcasts within the psychology and human mind niche. We’re going take a deeper dive into its success, how it came to be, and what you can expect to hear on the show.
Hosts Behind Hidden Brain
The Hidden Brain podcast is hosted by NPR’s Social Science Correspondent Shankar Vedantam. Before his work with NPR and Hidden Brain Media, which he founded in 2019, he spent 10 years as a reporter for The Washington Post where he wrote for the Department of Human Behavior Column.
Other honorable highlights in Vedantam’s career include:
- Served as a fellow for the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University from 2009-2010
- Completed two years as a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington in 2010
- Published his non-fiction book The Hidden Brain: How our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives in 2010
- Participated in the Templeton-Cambridge Fellowship on Science and Religion in 2005
- Participated in the World Health Organization Journalism Fellowship from 2003-2004
- Participated in the Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship from 2002-2003
Vedantam is also the winner of several journalism awards and has served as a lecturer at many prestigious universities including Harvard University and Columbia University.
Themes and Topics Covered on the Podcast
When it comes to the human mind, there are endless topics to explore and discuss. The Hidden Brain podcast talks about how our subconscious thoughts and patterns can ultimately drive our behaviors and decision-making. Each episode on this podcast focuses on a specific subtopic of the human mind – Here’s a recap of 3 different episodes to give you an idea of what you can expect to hear on the show.
“Who’s In Your Inner Circle?”
In this recent episode released a couple of weeks ago, Vedantam explores the reasoning behind why the people closest in our lives are often very similar to us. Whether you like the same foods or hobbies, you probably share many similarities with the people in your inner circle.
In this episode, economists Luigi Pistaferri and Matthew Jackson are invited onto the show to talk more about why we surround ourselves with people similar to us – and also how we can better our lives by pushing back against this phenomenon.
“Being Kind to Yourself”
Released on October 2021, this episode focuses on self-criticism with psychologist Kristin Neff. They discuss how people are often much more compassionate and kind towards other people rather than themselves, and how we all have a voice in our head that is constantly criticizing our own thoughts and actions.
Kristin Neff brings a new perspective to self-improvement which is the idea of self-compassion. She talks about how people who practice self-compassion are much more likely to take accountability for their mistakes and are more conscious in their decision-making.
“We’re All Gonna Live Forever!”
In this episode, released in September 2019, Shankar Vedantam explores the fear of death and how it can shape our behaviors and decision-making. Featured guest and psychologist Sheldon Solomon talks about why humans have such an intense fear of death.
This podcast gets another perspective on the fear of death from philosopher Stephen Cave. Cave talks about all of the different ways that we reassure our minds that death is not ultimately the end that can resolve that fear.
Currently, the Hidden Brain podcast has 34.1K followers on Instagram and is not currently active on YouTube or TikTok.
As of January 2023, Hidden Brain was ranked number 1 in Apple Music’s Science and Medicine category.
Based on this analysis we estimated that the Hidden Brain receives 300k – 500k listens each time an episode goes out across Apple, Google, Youtube, and Spotify podcast networks.
Structure and Formatting of the Podcast
Every episode on the Hidden Brain podcast focuses on a specific subtopic or question pertaining to the human mind. Every episode starts off by introducing the subject at hand and giving any background information that is prevalent to the issue.
The structure and formatting of each episode is pretty consistent throughout the podcast. Most episodes are between 30 and 60 minutes long, and during the episode, most of the content is informational and insightful.
Guests Featured on the Show
Since Hidden Brain is a science and psychology-based podcast, you can expect lots of guests knowledgeable in their field featured on the show. Here are some examples of guests that have appeared on the Hidden Brain podcast in the past:
- Cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky talks about the structure of different languages and how it impacts the way we see the world
- Psychologist Bruce Hood talks about our relationship with our possessions and why we feel the need to hold onto things
- Psychologist Linda Skitka talks about what happens when we view politics through a moral lens, and how moral certainty can cause moral blinders ]
If the study of psychology and the human brain piques your interest, you should definitely consider giving the Hidden Brain podcast a listen. Episodes are released weekly, and each episode talks about a different topic pertaining to the human mind.