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The Hidden Brain


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About the Author

Shankar Vedantam is a national correspondent and columnist for the Washington Post and a 2009 Neimann Fellow. He lives in Washington, DC.


Washington Post science journalist Vedantam theorizes that there's a hidden world in our heads filled with unconscious biases, often small, hidden errors in thinking that manipulate our attitudes and actions without our knowing it. Autonomy is a myth, he says, because knowledge and rational intention are not responsible for our choices. This thesis is not news- since Freud, psychologists have taken the unconscious into account-but Vedanta argues that if we are influenced sometimes, then why not all the time, whether we're launching a romance or a genocide. This is a frightening leap in logic. In anecdotal, journalistic prose, we learn that, through bias, rape victims can misidentify their attacker; people are more honest even with just a subtle indication that they are being watched; polite behavior has to do with the frontotemporal lobes rather than with how one was raised; and that we can be unconsciously racist and sexist. Though drawing on the latest psychological research, Vedantam's conclusions are either trite or unconvincing. (Jan. 19) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

In language that will be accessible to many readers, science journalist Vedantam (columnist, "Department of Human Behavior," Washington Post) writes about "unconscious biases" in language. According to him, our unconscious biases exert a good deal more control over our lives than most of us realize, in areas ranging from first impressions to how we vote. Vedantam draws on scientific research about the brain as well as anecdotes gleaned from his work as a journalist, all to present a picture of what he terms the "hidden brain." The results make for compelling reading about how our minds work without our knowledge, but some casual readers might be confused about what represents the author's opinion and what comes from the academic literature. (The book lacks end notes or bibliography.) Verdict This book will appeal to fans of Vedantam's column, as well as others interested in reading about this subject in lay readers' terms and through personal anecdotes. Serious scholars of the social sciences will probably feel that Vedantam's conclusions are somewhat oversimplified. [See "Prepub Exploded," BookSmack!, 8/6/09.]-Madeline Mundt, Univ. of Nevada Lib., Reno Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"In The Hidden Brain, one of America's best science journalists describes how our unconscious minds influence everything from criminal trials to charitable giving, from suicide bombers to presidential elections. The Hidden Brain is a smart and engaging exploration of the science behind the headlines-and of the little man behind the screen. Don't miss it."-Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

"Shankar Vedantam brings his critical eye to a question that has haunted scientists and writers for centuries: Does the unconscious matter, and if so, how? With a light touch, the book takes us through the complicated landscape of research on psychology and human behavior. We come away not only understanding how we act, but Vedantam moves past mainstream economic reasoning to shed light on the relationships we create with each other. The book addresses the madness and beauty of our struggles to create a moral and just world." -Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets

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