While reporting for The Washington Post in 2004, I interviewed Harvard psychologist Mahzarin R. Banaji about work she had done to uncover people’s unconscious prejudices. I was so inspired by her research and so shaken by the findings that I changed the trajectory of my career.
For the last several years, first at the Post and now as an NPR science correspondent, I’ve been writing about the ways hidden factors shape our perceptions and behavior. My goal is to connect the rigor and insights of academia to the public’s concerns and interests. Audiences have gravitated to my stories, telling me how meaningful they are to them. People have told me they’d like something more in-depth than my four-minute radio stories, and that’s where the idea for the podcast came from.
Much like many of my print and radio stories, along with my 2010 book “The Hidden Brain,” the podcast seeks to link psychology and sociology research with people’s everyday lives. In the first episode, I explored “switchtracking” with author Sheila Heen. Switchtracking happens when two people are having parallel conversations with one another. The thing that’s great about switchtracking as a subject is that, the moment people hear about it, they’ll remember conversations over the last week in which it happened. And a discussion about switchtracking does what social science does best: it reveals us to ourselves. Once we slow down and observe what’s happening around us, we can see the factors shaping our perceptions and behaviors, and that gives us some control over them.
Podcasts lend themselves to iteration and to learning. We have the opportunity to experiment with ways to make science fun and engaging. We’re integrating games, along with storytelling and conversations, into each episode. In a segment called “Mad Scientist,” I describe a social science experiment to my guests and ask them to figure out what the experiment found. There’s entertainment value in that, and it allows listeners to play along.
With “Hidden Brain,” we want to entertain, but we also want to provide insights for people to apply at work, at home, and throughout their lives.