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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Science
1:20 am
Mon November 11, 2013

Lessons In Leadership: It's Not About You. (It's About Them)

Ronald Heifetz draws on his training as a psychiatrist to coach aspiring leaders at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Ben de la Cruz NPR

Originally published on Mon November 11, 2013 5:15 pm

Ronald Heifetz has been a professor of public leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School for three decades, teaching classes that have included aspiring business leaders and budding heads of state. Each year, he says, the students start his course thinking they'll learn the answer to one question:

As leaders, how can they get others to follow them?

Heifetz says that whole approach is wrong.

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The Salt
1:58 am
Thu October 31, 2013

Why Are Kids Who Get Less Candy Happier On Halloween?

Kids might be more satisfied if they get one good treat instead of one good treat and one lesser treat.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu October 31, 2013 9:03 am

What makes trick-or-treaters happy is candy. And more candy is better, right?

Well, it turns out that might not actually be the case. A few years ago researchers did a study on Halloween night where some trick-or-treaters were given a candy bar, and others were given the candy bar and a piece of bubble gum.

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NPR Story
3:24 am
Fri October 25, 2013

Why We Care More About Losses Than Gains

Originally published on Fri October 25, 2013 4:43 am

People care more about losing a dollar than gaining a dollar. This ideal, known as loss aversion, has national consequences, too, according to new research. David Greene discusses the phenomenon with NPR's Shankar Vedantam.

Shots - Health News
1:37 am
Mon September 23, 2013

Smart Teenage Brains May Get Some Extra Learning Time

When it comes to nature versus nurture, brain scientists think both matter.
Daniel Horowitz for NPR

Originally published on Mon September 23, 2013 9:04 am

John Hewitt is a neuroscientist who studies the biology of intelligence. He's also a parent. Over the years, Hewitt has periodically drawn upon his scientific knowledge in making parenting decisions.

"I'm a father of four children myself and I never worried too much about the environments that I was providing for my children because I thought, well, it would all work out in the end anyway — aren't the genes especially powerful?" Hewitt says.

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The Salt
1:22 am
Fri September 20, 2013

Diet Of Defeat: Why Football Fans Mourn With High-Fat Food

Football fans ate fattier meals the day after their teams lost a game, a study found.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon September 23, 2013 3:35 pm

Backing a losing NFL team isn't just bad for your pride.

It's bad for your waistline.

A study that links sports outcomes with the eating behavior of fans finds that backers of NFL teams eat more food and fattier food the day after a loss. Backers of winning teams, by contrast, eat lighter food, and in moderation.

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All Tech Considered
1:30 am
Mon September 9, 2013

It's OK To Protest In China, Just Don't March

Security guards stand outside newspaper offices in Guangdong province in January, where banners and flowers were laid in protest of censorship.
AP

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 11:12 am

Thousands of messages posted on the Internet every day in China get censored. Until now, little has been known about how the Chinese censorship machine works — except that it is comprehensive.

"It probably is the largest effort ever to selectively censor human expression," says Harvard University social scientist Gary King. "They don't censor everything. There are millions of Chinese [who] talk about millions of things. But the effort to prune the Internet of certain kinds of information is unprecedented."

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Shots - Health News
1:06 am
Fri August 30, 2013

Money May Be Motivating Doctors To Do More C-Sections

Pregnant doctors are less likely than other women to deliver their babies via C-section, recent research suggests. Economists say that may be because the physician patients feel more empowered to question the obstetrician.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue September 3, 2013 6:57 am

Obstetricians perform more cesarean sections when there are financial incentives to do so, according to a new study that explores links between economic incentives and medical decision-making during childbirth.

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Music News
12:03 am
Tue August 20, 2013

How To Win That Music Competition? Send A Video

If someone like Lang Lang were starting out now, the energetic concert pianist could nail every piano competition without the judges ever hearing a note, according to a new study.
China Photos Getty Images

Originally published on Tue August 20, 2013 3:13 am

Chia-Jung Tsay was something of a piano prodigy. By age 12, she was performing Mendelssohn in concert. At 16, she made her debut at Carnegie Hall. Soon, she was on her way to some of the best music schools in the country — Juilliard and the Peabody Conservatory. And she was throwing her hat in the ring for different competitions.

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All Tech Considered
1:03 am
Fri August 9, 2013

Why Aren't More Girls Attracted To Physics?

Girls are more likely to take high school physics if they see women in their communities working in science, technology, engineering and math, a new study finds.
Dominik Pabis iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed February 19, 2014 7:05 pm

You don't need to be a social scientist to know there is a gender diversity problem in technology. The tech industry in Silicon Valley and across the nation is overwhelmingly male-dominated.

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Politics
3:25 am
Tue July 30, 2013

What A State Capital's Location Can Say About Corruption

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 5:46 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

When a New York state senator was recently taken into custody for embezzlement, he was the 32nd politician in that state to be indicted or convicted in the last seven years. And there's a new theory that explains corruption in state governments.

NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam, who joins us often at MORNING EDITION, is back with us. Hey, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Hi, David.

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Code Switch
1:26 am
Fri July 19, 2013

How To Fight Racial Bias When It's Silent And Subtle

Researchers say it may be possible to temporarily reduce racial biases.
Images.com Corbis

Originally published on Fri July 19, 2013 6:00 pm

In the popular imagination and in conventional discourse — especially in the context of highly charged news events such as the shooting of Trayvon Martin — prejudice is all about hatred and animosity.

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Shots - Health News
2:45 am
Mon June 24, 2013

Gloomy Thinking Can Be Contagious

Katherine Streeter for NPR

Originally published on Tue June 25, 2013 8:59 am

When students show up at college in the fall, they'll have to deal with new classes, new friends and a new environment. In many cases, they will also have new roommates — and an intriguing new research study suggests this can have important mental health consequences.

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Research News
1:00 am
Thu June 20, 2013

What Makes Rituals Special? Join Us For A Google+ Conversation

Originally published on Thu June 20, 2013 10:30 am

Click play on the video player above to watch my Google+ conversation with Harvard behavioral scientist Francesca Gino and Slate's Human Nature correspondent William Saletan about the role of ritual in human life.

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Health
1:03 am
Mon May 20, 2013

Bans Of Same-Sex Marriage Can Take A Psychological Toll

Opponents of same-sex marriage participate in the March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., on March 26, as the Supreme Court hears arguments on California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage.
Nicholas Kamm AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon May 20, 2013 7:25 am

As the country awaits two important Supreme Court decisions involving state laws on same-sex marriage, a small but consistent body of research suggests that laws that ban gay marriage — or approve it — can affect the mental health of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans.

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Research News
3:04 am
Fri May 10, 2013

What Does 'Sexual Coercion' Say About A Society?

One contemporary analysis links the increase in gender equality in a society with increased sexual empowerment of women and less sexual coercion. But there's more to it than that.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Fri May 10, 2013 9:46 am

Anthropologists, sociologists and biologists have explored over several decades many factors that shape the likelihood of sexual coercion of women by men.

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Shots - Health News
1:40 am
Mon May 6, 2013

Young Girls May Get More 'Teaching Time' From Parents Than Boys Do

Of Blocks And Books: Parents may be more likely to take a young daughter to the library than a son, and to read to the girl for longer periods of time, a new analysis suggests.
Hulton Archive iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue May 7, 2013 10:27 am

For some years now, teachers and parents have noted something about boys and girls. Starting in elementary school, young girls often score better on reading and math tests than young boys do.

The differences are uneven on different tests and do not describe the experience of every child, but empirical studies do document a difference.

Now, two economists are proposing a partial explanation for the disparity that might give some parents heartburn.

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Shots - Health News
1:26 am
Mon April 29, 2013

Shhh, The Kids Can Hear You Arguing (Even When They're Asleep)

Even during sleep, babies' brains continue to take in and process angry voices.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon April 29, 2013 6:17 pm

For years now, psychologists have been telling couples who yell at one another to stop for the sake of the kids. Such conflict in the home — even when no violence is involved — is associated with a host of negative behavioral and life outcomes for children.

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Code Switch
3:51 pm
Mon April 22, 2013

What Does Modern Prejudice Look Like?

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue April 23, 2013 8:08 am

Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji was once approached by a reporter for an interview. When Banaji heard the name of the magazine the reporter was writing for, she declined the interview: She didn't think much of the magazine and believed it portrayed research in psychology inaccurately.

But then the reporter said something that made her reconsider, Banaji recalled: "She said, 'You know, I used to be a student at Yale when you were there, and even though I didn't take a course with you, I do remember hearing about your work.' "

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Research News
12:56 am
Tue April 9, 2013

To Find Insider Trading, Follow The Kids' Money

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue April 9, 2013 7:14 am

In New York and Washington, government regulators are cracking down on insider trading, the illegal practice in which people with internal information about important company events make stock market trades before ordinary investors find out what's happening.

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Research News
1:16 am
Mon April 1, 2013

Why Not Apologizing Makes You Feel Better

Illustration by NPR

Originally published on Fri April 5, 2013 6:50 am

To err is human.

So is refusing to apologize for those errors.

From toddlers and talk show hosts to preteens and presidents, we all know people who have done stupid, silly and evil things, then squared their jaws and told the world they've done nothing wrong.

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Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
1:14 am
Mon March 25, 2013

Shift In Gay Marriage Support Mirrors A Changing America

Same-sex marriage advocates protest outside the county clerk's office in San Francisco on Feb. 14.
Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Originally published on Mon March 25, 2013 6:42 am

When Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman recently reversed his stance on gay marriage after his son came out as gay, he joined a tidal wave of Americans who have altered their views on the subject.

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Shots - Health News
1:24 am
Mon March 4, 2013

Your Child's Fat, Mine's Fine: Rose-Colored Glasses And The Obesity Epidemic

Adam Cole NPR

Originally published on Mon March 4, 2013 6:30 pm

About 69 percent of American adults are overweight or obese, and more than four in five people say they are worried about obesity as a public health problem.

But a recent poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health revealed a curious schism in our national attitudes toward obesity: Only one in five kids had a parent who feared the boy or girl would grow up to be overweight as an adult.

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Research News
12:55 am
Wed February 6, 2013

Why You Love That Ikea Table, Even If It's Crooked

Building your own stuff boosts your feelings of pride and competence, and also signals to others that you are competent.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed February 6, 2013 8:51 am

Have you ever spent a couple of hours working on a craft project — or a presentation for work — and then fallen in love with what you've accomplished? Do the colors you've picked for your PowerPoint background pop so beautifully that you just have to sit back and admire your own genius?

If so, get in line: You're the latest person to fall victim to the Ikea Effect.

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The Salt
10:33 am
Fri February 1, 2013

Pig Out In The Winter Or When Money's Tight? Blame Evolution

When times are tough, that prehistoric urge to splurge on high-calorie treats like M&Ms still kicks in.
Daniel M.N. Turner NPR

Originally published on Fri February 1, 2013 3:39 pm

Has the recession made you fat?

To the long and growing list of risk factors known to increase the risk of obesity, scientists recently added a new one: scarcity.

People given subtle cues that they may have to confront harsh conditions in the near future choose to eat higher-calorie food than they might do otherwise, a response that researchers believe is shaped by the long hand of evolution.

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Science
12:59 am
Wed January 30, 2013

When Crime Pays: Prison Can Teach Some To Be Better Criminals

Prison provides an opportunity for networking with more seasoned criminals.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue February 12, 2013 9:26 am

In popular lore — movies, books and blogs — criminals who go to prison don't come out reformed. They come out worse.

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Education
1:31 am
Wed January 9, 2013

Elite Colleges Struggle To Recruit Smart, Low-Income Kids

Top schools like Harvard, seen here in 2000, often offer scholarships and other financial incentives, but they are finding it hard to increase the socioeconomic diversity on campus.
Darren McCollester Getty Images

Originally published on Wed January 9, 2013 4:26 am

Across the United States, college administrators are poring over student essays, recommendation letters and SAT scores as they select a freshman class for the fall.

If this is like most years, administrators at top schools such as Harvard and Stanford will try hard to find talented high school students from poor families in a push to increase the socioeconomic diversity on campus and to counter the growing concern that highly selective colleges cater mainly to students from privileged backgrounds.

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Science
2:50 pm
Wed January 2, 2013

'Stand Your Ground' Linked To Increase In Homicides

George Zimmerman (left) and his attorney appear in court for a bond hearing in June. Zimmerman's case sparked a nationwide debate about so-called "stand your ground" laws.
Joe Burbank AP

Originally published on Thu January 3, 2013 8:54 am

If a stranger attacks you inside your own home, the law has always permitted you to defend yourself. On the other hand, if an altercation breaks out in public, the law requires you to try to retreat. At least, that's what it used to do.

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Shots - Health News
1:46 am
Wed January 2, 2013

Can Skinny Models Undermine Your Dieting Goals?

Posting a picture like this on the fridge might seem like good motivation for weight loss. But scientists say it might instead inspire weight gain.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed January 2, 2013 9:16 am

The millions of Americans who make New Year's resolutions to lose weight often have pictures in mind.

They're pictures that have been repeatedly supplied by the health and beauty magazines at supermarket checkout lines. They feature skinny models in bikinis, or toned guys with six-pack abs, and captions about how you could look like this by summer.

Some people go so far as to tape these pictures onto their refrigerators and cupboards. When they're tempted to reach for a cookie, they reason, the sight of that toned model might dissuade them from breaking their resolutions.

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Research News
1:52 am
Fri December 21, 2012

Why Some Kids Have An Inflated Sense Of Their Science Skills

Originally published on Fri December 21, 2012 6:49 pm

If you're a student at the halfway point of the academic year, and you've just taken stock of your performance, perhaps you have reason to feel proud of yourself.

But a recent study suggests some of the pride you feel at having done well — especially in science — may be unfounded. Or at least your sense of your performance may not be a very accurate picture of how good you actually are.

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