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.
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.