The Hidden Brain

Our unconscious biases.

Can We Do Away with the Unconscious Mind?

Can we do away with unconscious biases?

A new interview explores what happens to people when they are deprived of their hidden brains.

Much of my new book, The Hidden Brain, is about the problems that unconscious factors create in our lives — from the vagaries in our moral judgment to the ways in which suicide bombers are indoctrinated. A natural conclusion from these examples is that we would be much better off without the hidden brain. This idea turns out to be impractical, and also fails to account for the many positive things the hidden brain does for us each day.

In a chapter called Tracking the Hidden Brain (watch a video introduction to it here) I show what happens to a middle-aged woman in Canada who loses a part of her hidden brain — a disorder robs her of subtle mental skills that she needs to function in social settings. She not only loses the ability to relate in appropriate ways to her family and to her friends, but also develops a host of unusual behaviors that puzzle the people who know and love her best.

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You can listen to the radio interview here. Among other things, it touches on how racial biases are exploited in political campaigns, and how we can fight the political operatives who seek to exploit our unconscious fears and biases.

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Shankar Vedantam is a science reporter with National Public Radio and a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

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