Shankar Vedantam

Author, The Hidden Brain
NPR's Social Science Correspondent

Insights into unconscious bias in human behavior and organizational dynamics.

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NPR science correspondent Shankar Vedantam offers unique insights into how our unconscious biases — what he calls the hidden brain — affect the decisions we make both personally and as groups and organizations. He bases these insights on data, not on psychological theories of the subconscious. Few speakers bring such a trove of breakthroughs in social science research to their audiences’ concerns.

The Hidden Brain. Like a puppeteer behind a curtain, the hidden brain shapes our behavior, our choices, and the course of our relationships. But unconscious biases don’t just live in our individual brains; they also influence the success or failure of our organizations. In his presentations, as in his book The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives, Vedantam reveals these unconscious patterns and he lays out ways in which we can avoid the mistakes they often cause.

Credentials. Shankar Vedantam is National Public Radio’s social science correspondent and the host of the Hidden Brain Podcast. He spent ten years as a reporter for The Washington Post and wrote the Post’s Department of Human Behavior column from 2007 to 2009. He served as a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University from 2009 to 2010.

The recipient of numerous awards, Shankar has lectured at Harvard University and Columbia University, served on the advisory board of the Templeton-Cambridge Fellowships in Science & Religion, and been a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.


The Hidden Brain

How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives

Shankar Vedantam

The hidden brain is the voice in our ear when we make the most important decisions in our lives — but we’re never aware of it. The hidden brain decides whom we fall in love with and whom we hate. It tells us to vote for the white candidate and convict the dark-skinned defendant, to hire the thin woman but pay her less than the man doing the same job. It can direct us to safety when disaster strikes and move us to extraordinary acts of altruism. But it can also be manipulated to turn an ordinary person into a suicide terrorist or a group of bystanders into a mob.

In a series of compulsively readable narratives, Shankar Vedantam journeys through the latest discoveries in neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral science to uncover the darkest corner of our minds and its decisive impact on the choices we make as individuals and as a society. Filled with fascinating characters, dramatic storytelling, and cutting-edge science, this is an engrossing exploration of the secrets our brains keep from us — and how they are revealed.

Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (August 31, 2010)


Shankar tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

Hidden Brain

The role of the “hidden brain” in everyday life. Highly engaging and interactive presentation that gives audiences a combination of “brain food” and action items designed to help them see how unconscious biases shape the world.

Hidden Brain & Risk

Unconscious factors play an enormous role in shaping how we think about risk — whether you’re a gambler at a roulette table in Las Vegas, an investor or an employee at a company trying to decide how best to save for retirement. Ideas from this presentation have proven highly effective in a variety of settings, including at events that discuss health and wellness, personal finance and public policy.

Hidden Brain & Finance

The world of money is shaped by norms, expectations and fears. This presentation explores how the behavior of companies and individuals are shaped by hidden psychological factors they rarely stop to consider.

Hidden Brain & Creativity

Creativity is among the most talked about and least understood of all psychological phenomena. We often “know it when we see it” when we come across superstars, but how do we identify it in children, nurture it among artists, and harness it for our employees?

Hidden Brain & Diversity

There is robust evidence to show that diversity can improve the way organizations and communities grapple with problems. But it is also the case that, handled wrong, diversity can sometimes turn out to be ineffective or even counter-productive. This presentation sets aside the “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots” to take a science-based approach to understanding how diversity can be effective, and how organizations can capitalize on its strengths.

Hidden Brain & Law

From police eyewitness identifications to jury selection, from the behavior of lawyers to that of judges, our legal system is shot through with all manner of unconscious biases. This presentation aims to help legal scholars and practitioners understand how the mind sometimes plays tricks on even the well-intentioned — and has the power to misdirect the course of the law.

Hidden Brain & Consumer Behavior

Choices, biases and the unconscious mind. Consumers and marketers are constantly engaged in an arms race to game each other out. How do companies shape the way people think of their products? How do consumers return the favor? From the “Decoy effect” to the “Ikea Effect” learn about the many subtle ways in which your mind can make you a better consumer, a better marketer and a better innovator.

Hidden Brain & Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is a powerful force, except when it isn’t. Learn about the rapidly evolving science of peer pressure, which can cause people to behave more responsibly — but also less responsibly! Done right, peer pressure can change the way schools function and companies get the most from their employees. Done wrong, peer pressure can do great damage — and produce counterproductive results.

Hidden Brain & Ethics

Hidden factors that lie below the horizon of conscious awareness play an enormous role in shaping how we think about what’s right and what’s wrong. The results of these forces are often funny, and can also be heartwarming — or malevolent. Ideas from this presentation have been highly effective in school settings, and provide entertaining “brain food” at conferences and retreats.

Hidden Brain & Gender

Shankar is passionately interested in questions related to gender equity. He has powerful personal stories and a slew of live experiments designed to drive home the powerful role that gender plays in shaping our attitudes, our politics and our judgments about one another. Ideas from this presentation have elicited applause in non-profit, educational and corporate settings, with many participants reporting after the talk that they can now see the world through entirely new eyes.

Hidden Brain & Wellness

Most of us know we ought to eat right, exercise regularly and get a good night’s rest. So why do so many of us fall short in reaching those goals? The gap between insight and action is the focus of this presentation — which also suggests a number of surprising and counter-intuitive ways we can use the “hidden brain” to actually reach our goals.

Elite Tribes

Why have Brazil and Germany won a disproportionate number of World Cup Soccer Championships? Why do we see the same small handful of teams show up year in and year out at the Superbowl? What explains the dominance of some teams in sports, science and innovation? In this mind-expanding presentation, Shankar shares new social science research into the nature of excellence, by bringing together compelling science and entertaining storytelling.

Hidden Brain & Big Data

Big data promises to unlock all sorts of mysteries, and holds out tantalizing possibilities for understanding how the brain works. Simultaneously, however, our fascination with big data raises important questions and concerns — including the risk that techniques involving big data might unintentionally amplify our unconscious biases. This presentation explores how our minds process information and data, and the importance of keeping the "Hidden Brain" front and center as we design data systems.


Unconscious Bias

The Hidden Brain | Strata + Hadoop

How the hidden brain influences decision making


A State business leadership group:
We have never before had a keynote speaker receive a standing ovation...

A medical research organization:
Your presentation, The Hidden Brain, was engaging, thought-provoking and brilliantly articulated...