The Hidden Brain Book Summary By Shankar Vedantam

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The Hidden Brain, written by award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author Shankar Vedantam, provides insight into how the unconscious mind affects our lives and society.

This book reveals the powerful role that the hidden brain - our unconscious mind - plays in shaping our memories, judgments, and perceptions.

It also explores how subconscious bias and mistakes influence our social, economic, and political institutions.

With its interesting scientific evidence and gripping narrative style of storytelling, The Hidden Brain is an eye-opening exploration into the wonders of the human brain.

The Hidden Brain Book

Book Name: The Hidden Brain (How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives)

Author(s): Shankar Vedantam

Rating: 3.7/5

Reading Time: 23 Minutes

Categories: Psychology

Author Bio

Shankar Vedantam is a renowned American journalist, writer and social-science correspondent for NPR.

He first dove into exploring the hidden brain with his acclaimed column “Department of Human Behavior” in the Washington Post from 2006 to 2009.

Through his popular podcast Hidden Brain which boasts over two million downloads each week, and the radio show broadcasted to an estimated 250 public radio shows, Shankar has become an expert in this area of study.

His passion for uncovering and interpreting these mind mysteries gets him sought after around the world, especially since the publication of his book "The Hidden Brain".

With analytical brilliance and compelling storytelling he explains how our unconscious behaviors shape our lives and society.

Uncovering The Hidden Brain: How The Unconscious Mind Shapes Our Everyday Lives

Hidden Brain

We all have the power to reclaim control of our unconscious brains, and to use it for good.

In the Hidden Brain Book Summary, we see how the power of unconscious forces can be harnessed in order to help us make better decisions, break out of harmful patterns and become more aware of biases that lead us astray.

The book outlines how shoplifters aren’t necessarily bad people; how children can be taught anti-racist idealogies; and even how criminal justice systems should take into account the effects of unconscious bias when forming their judgments.

We learn strategies to overcome certain automatic behaviors that we are otherwise unaware of and reframe our thinking so that it is more conscious.

We come to understand that we still have autonomy over ourselves and that through understanding our unconscious thought processes, we can become much better decision makers.

With this newfound awareness, we can choose a path that is most beneficial for ourselves instead of following rote paths provided by our sociocultural context.

Reclaim control over your unconscious brain today!

The Hidden Brain: Evidence Of Its Manipulation Is Everywhere

The hidden brain influences us in ways we don’t even realize.

Evidence of this lies all around us, as we can see from Melissa Bateson’s study at an office coffee station and Rick van Baaran’s experiment at an Applebee’s restaurant.

In Bateson’s study, users were unaware that someone was tracking the box and didn’t notice a small image at the top of the notice sheet which changed every week.

When the image featured eyes, people contributed three times more than when it showed flowers – even when the image was only in their peripheral vision.

This demonstrates how our hidden brain unconsciously processes visual cues and affects our behavior.

On the other hand, Van Baaran’s research shows how people are more responsive when they feel in sync with others – a customer gave a 140 percent bigger tip when his order was repeated verbatim compared to when it was paraphrased by the waitress.

These studies show that evidence of the hidden brain is always present but invisible to us, whether it takes subtle form like pictures or more obvious forms like words and behavior.

It is essential to recognize its presence to better understand ourselves and make conscious decisions that are right for ourselves and our society.

The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Help Us Navigate The World

The hidden brain is the foundation of our social behavior.

It is an unconscious cognitive mechanism that helps guide us in our everyday actions, such as understanding and responding to social cues and forming judgments about people and scenarios.

Without these unconscious mechanisms, we would be unable to form appropriate judgments about people or situational contexts, which can lead to situations where one’s behavior may become unacceptable.

For example, neuroscientists observed what happens to patients with frontotemporal dementia who lose their ability to process and follow social norms – a common symptom of this disorder.

As a result of their inability to understand basic social expectations and norms such as shame or criticism, these patients are more likely to end up in police custody for crimes like shoplifting since they no longer process these socially accepted cues.

Similarly, those with schizophrenia have been observed to lack the ability to read facial expressions due to changes in certain parts of their brain.

This can cause them to misinterpret simple gestures like friendliness as hostility or suspicion, leading them down a dangerous path if not managed properly.

These examples help show how the hidden brain is the foundations of our social behavior and how it regulates our ability to make judgments on an unconscious level.

The Hidden Brain Leads Children To Unconsciously Develop Racial Bias At A Young Age

Racial Bias

A groundbreaking study conducted by Frances Aboud reveals that young children are prone to developing unconscious racial biases.

The results of this Montreal-based study, which involved 80 white children, show that 70 percent assigned positive adjectives to white faces while assigning negative adjectives to Black faces.

The root of these prejudices is due in part to the fact that many of these children lived in an overwhelmingly white world.

In their communities and on television shows, they saw mostly people of their own ethnicity being depicted positively while those from other ethnicities were presented as different and lesser than them.

This tendency for prejudice extends beyond awareness and actual opinion.

Even if a research assistant read aloud a story about a heroic Black boy, the children still had racial biases about Black people– yet surprisingly believed that the assistants shared their views!

Only through explicit discussion did their beliefs begin to shift.

What’s become clear from Aboud’s findings is that the hidden brain leads children to form unconscious racial biases based on associative patterns in their environments, even if those patterns don’t reflect their families’ values or actual experience with people from other races.

Unconscious Bias Plays A Substantial Role In Political Elections

Millions of people have taken the Implicit Association Test, which measures unconscious biases regarding race.

After collecting data from this test, American psychologist Brian Nosek created a map of the United States comparing the degree of racial bias with the political affiliations in each area.

He found that areas with higher levels of racial bias generally tended to vote for Republican candidates.

This can be partially attributed to Black-majority populations typically voting for Democrats, but research also suggests that unconscious bias plays a key role in decisions about who receives welfare benefits and how people view welfare programs associated with Black people more generally.

Analysis by Princeton University’s Martin Gilens indicates that white Americans held hostile views toward welfare when they knew it was being used by Black women and volunteers were likely to associate its beneficiaries exclusively with the Black population even though white people benefit most from this system.

Additonally, former US President George Bush’s 1988 campaign employed an ad highlighting Willie Horton, a man convicted of rape and murder – Bush was accused of capitalizing on citizens’ unconscious racism to gain support during the election.

Moreover, Barack Obama’s strategy while running for president included acknowledging both Black and white peoples’ anger towards each other while noting his own white heritage.

It is argued that if he had instead chosen to address issues surrounding racial injustices or had darker skin then he may not have been elected as the first African American president in 2008 due to tapping into unsconscious biases present amongst voters

The Unfair Reality Of Racial Bias In The Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system in the United States has been found to disproportionately target people of color, particularly Black individuals.

This isn’t by accident, either; it’s a result of an unconscious bias that has been recognized and documented by researchers like Jennifer Eberhardt at Stanford University.

In her research examining over 600 cases serious enough to consider capital punishment, she and her colleagues studied photographs of convicted African American criminals who were charged with killing white victims.

Without knowing that these pictures were from actual convicts, volunteers were asked to rate how “stereotypically African” the individual in the picture looked.

What they found was that those perceived as possessing stereotypically Black features were more than twice as likely to receive the death sentence than those with more Caucasoid features.

It’s not just Ernest Porter, who was wrongfully accused and sentenced to die for a crime he may not have committed; The hidden brain of racial bias has created disparities among minority groups in the criminal justice system worldwide.

Consequently, it is necessary to be aware of our biases and address them if we are truly aiming for equality before law .

Unconscious Bias Is Undermining Women In The Professional World

Professional World

Unconscious gender bias stands in the way of women achieving the same opportunities and respect in the professional world as their male peers.

Women are often made to feel less valued or respected than men, and research supports this; full-time female workers earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.

Lilly Ledbetter experienced this firsthand when she found a mysterious note in her mailbox at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company that listed her salary as lower than her three male colleagues’.

She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but it was dismissed due to being filed years after the discrimination had occurred.

This tragedy forced Congress to pass The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 which gave pay discrimination victims a fair hearing.

Still, there are people who deny that unconscious bias even exists.

Madeline Heilman conducted an experiment showing that 4 out 5 volunteers preferred a male boss over a female one, pointing to damaging stereotypes about leadership and femininity.

Ultimately, these issues demonstrate how important it is to talk about unconscious bias if we are going make any progress towards resolving them and creating an equal environment for all genders in professional arenas.

In Times Of Disaster, Embrace A Leader’S Courage To Save Lives

There’s a lesson to be learned from the 9/11 disaster at the World Trade Center: Disaster victims, even in the face of peril, tend to conform to group mentality.

This was particularly evident in the two floors of the building affected directly by the airplane crashes – 88th and 89th floors.

At 8:46 am on September 11, employees at Keefe, Bruyette, and Woods heard an earthquake-like sound that signaled an airplane had struck the North Tower.

Those on floor 88 began to evacuate while those on floor89 formed a consensus to stay put.

This instinctual behavior is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history – by staying with the group, we have been provided with safety and comfort in times of danger.

As such it’s not surprising that almost everyone on floor 89 perished while their colleagues 2 flights below stayed alive due to quick action by J.J Aguiar who ran around yelling for everyone to evacuate immediately.

What this story teaches us is that when faced with emergencies or disasters – such as a fire alarm going off – people are often inclined towards conformity with their peers despite such dire circumstances.

To better cope with these kinds of situations, organizations should train some individuals to recognize group mentality so they can urge immediate evacuation when necessary.

The Hidden Brain’s Role In Terrorism: Understanding The Psychology Behind Suicide Missions


It’s long been assumed that suicide terrorists are primarily motivated by religious fanaticism, but recent research has revealed that this is far too simplistic a view.

In fact, when it comes to understanding why some people become terrorists, religious commitment only explains part of the puzzle.

A closer look at terrorist organizations reveals a much more pressing motivation: group norms.

It turns out that suicidal terrorism is largely an issue of social identity and how people seek to fit into the collective expectations of their communities.

For example, when researchers studied the 2004 Madrid train bombings, they found something fascinating.

Al-Qaeda hadn’t actively recruited the bombers – they had self-selected by seeking out al-Qaeda to join them.

This indicates that the bombers were looking for a way to define themselves through their association with a particular cause – in this case extremist Islamism.

The same principle applies within terrorist groups as well – terrorists must prove their mettle before being entrusted with missions and rituals designed to foster solidarity create psychological pressure on potential would-be terrorists not to quit or back down from their duty.

The perception of failure – especially in front of others – can feel devastating for someone who feels tremendous loyalty for their group; the promise of recognition and glory in winning and fulfilling one’s mission could be sufficient motivation for someone seeking validation from peers and mentors.

In conclusion, it’s clear that suicide terrorism goes deeper than simply religious fundamentalism – it speaks to our desire for belonging and approval as well as our capacity for peer influence and conformity, uncovering a powerful yet finite range of psychological forces at work beneath the surface

Wrap Up

The Hidden Brain Book provides an insightful look into the power of our unconscious lives.

It explains how we are all susceptible to various biases and errors that can affect our social and economic behavior without us even realizing it.

By understanding the hidden brain, we have the opportunity to correct these biases, helping us build better relationships and creating more effective social and economic institutions.

The overall message of this book is clear: with knowledge and awareness, we can use the science behind our unconscious minds to drive effective change in ourselves as well as in society as a whole.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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