"Hidden Brain" is an especially thoughtful podcast about the science of human behavior and the sometimes shadowy workings of our own brains. Host Shankar Vedantam has a palpable enthusiasm for his subject, the kind that can make the listener feel like he's been missing out on something endlessly exciting. And of course, when the topic is our innermost selves, there seems to be infinite wonders available to the curious. Recent topics have included scarcity and its relation to desire, the difficulty of changing false beliefs, and what it is that might drive young men to murder. The interview-based podcast lacks a lot of production bells-and-whistles, but there's something about hearing soothingly intelligent voices in rapt conversation that serves as a balm on at least this writer's soul (not to mention his drive time.)
The most recent episode, "Liar, Liar," features an interview with Duke University professor Dan Ariely, author of "The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie To Everyone - Especially Ourselves." Vedantam expertly prompts Ariely to lay out a fascinating breakdown of human lying: what prompts us to lie, how we live with it, and why some people just never seem to do it. Ariely notes that while most of us assume that lying comes down to character ("Nice people don't lie"), his more sobering take is that the thing separating the honest from the dishonest is not so much character as opportunity. Not the most soothing thing to hear, but it carries the ring of truth.
That said, the mysterious process of deciding whether to be honest is most cleverly (and most reassuringly) illustrated by Ariely via a conversation he had with a waiter one night. Before he even ordered, he asked the waiter what the best methods he might have available to skip out on paying. The waiter, of course, knew them all: pretending to go to the bathroom, waiting for a big party to leave and slipping out in their midst, sneaking down the back alley (classy move, that), etc. But when Ariely asked how often this kind of thing happened, the waiter responded "very rarely" and added that most people who leave without paying will call apologetically later that night to pay over the phone.
So the methodology of lying, the ins and outs of sneaky and self-serving behavior, are open and available to us all. Ariely's theories on how or why or when we choose to take those immoral (or at least unethical) short cuts makes for fascinating listening. Take my word for it, you'll feel like you've had your mind sharpened in just under thirty minutes. You may even have the shavings to prove it.
Title: "Hidden Brain"
Episodes Available: 66
Episode Length: 30-40 minutes
Where to Download: NPR
Host: Shankar Vedantam