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

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  1,263 Ratings  ·  206 Reviews
Most of us would agree that there’s a clear and even obvious connection between the things we believe and the way we behave. But what if our actions are driven not by our conscious values and beliefs but by hidden motivations we’re not even aware of?

The “hidden brain” is Shankar Vedantam’s shorthand for a host of brain functions, emotional responses, and cognitive processe
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published January 19th 2010 by Spiegel & Grau (first published December 22nd 2009)
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Jan 26, 2010 Mark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, psychology

After the way Freud's theories have been discredited, you might think the notion of the unconscious has disappeared from psychology.

But Shankar Vedantam, a staff writer for the Washington Post, brilliantly resurrects the concept with modern-day experiments done by social psychologists and brain imaging experts to show how much of our lives is controlled by impulses and biases that we are completely unaware of.

For each type of influence exerted by the hidden brain, Vedantam gives gripping example
Nikhil P. Freeman
Jan 19, 2011 Nikhil P. Freeman rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Those who have never taken the implicit associations test
Just did not like the book. Covered a lot of ground--most of the things a person would learn in a social psychology class--but the presentation of different biases were lost to verbose anecdotes. The stories to explain the biases would get so long and cumbersome that I would forget his original point--and all of his points I already knew or heard before elsewhere. Every story was literally 50 words too long.

I was expecting a more neuroscience driven explanation for unconscious behavior/biases,
Book Riot Community
I made an informal pledge to read more nonfiction this year, and I started off with this one. It’s a good thing I really enjoyed the discussions in this book as it makes me more likely to stick to my goal!

–Sarah Nicolas

from The Best Books We Read In January 2017:
Jun 19, 2011 Asenath rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This would have received a 4, even a 4.5 up until the last two chapters. Vedantam does a great job with the writing--it's engaging and interesting. However, when I got to the "Defusing the Bomb" chapter, I couldn't help but feel that Vedantam had his own agenda and own point to get across--regardless of science. This chapter is the longest in the book (43 pages) and it is redundant and the actual evidence is weak. Even in the last chapter (about gun control) I felt the shift from presenting evid ...more
Jul 21, 2011 Mythili rated it liked it
What I liked about this book: Its storytelling. Vedantam rounds up all kinds of anecdotes and interviews all kinds of characters to look at how the unconscious mind shapes everything from how much a waitress is tipped to whether or not someone is sentenced to death. Particularly fascinating to me was the section on gender discrimination, in which Vedantam contrasts the experiences of two Stanford professors -- one who transitioned from male-to-female and the other who went female-to-male. Powerf ...more
Gordon Stock
Jun 12, 2017 Gordon Stock rated it really liked it
The book is full of interesting information, but the presentation is lacking. It is obvious that the author comes from a scientific background, he is often repetitive in relaying the information and not straightforward enough. Overall, interesting but not incredible.
Ismail Elshareef
Oct 27, 2011 Ismail Elshareef rated it really liked it
Shelves: business, life
The author tries to accomplish two things throughout this book: Explain how the hidden brain works and how it influences human behavior. He doesn't, however, explain how the hidden brain has evolved or how it can be changed, which to me is a crucial and expected takeaway when reading about the subject of the hidden, or unconscious, brain.

We come to understand through the extensive psychological research put into this book the reasons behind racial biases, prejudices, sexism and suicide bombings
May 11, 2014 Karmen rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
The author introduces an interesting idea - not a new concept but rather names something that has already been discussed.

He goes at great length to present the evidence for his claims and he does so mostly by using very detailed stories and forces the reader to take many off-road trips that often make you lose the sight of the point being proved.

What really bothers me though, that despite all the details put into stories (often unnecessary too) and despites author's obvious interest in topics o
Apr 13, 2014 Virginia rated it it was amazing
"The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives," is a fascinating and well-documented expose of what goes on behind the "closed doors" of the human consciousness. Shankar Vedantam brings his journalistic story-telling and researching skills to bear on a fascinating topic, and makes his points powerfully. I found the relatively few instances of evolutionary explanation for our mammalian brain's grip on our biases to be cogent and conv ...more
Feng Ouyang
Mar 18, 2017 Feng Ouyang rated it liked it
1. Introduction
a. Unconscious bias: we do things that are not consistent with our rational intention.
b. Story of mis-identification, teaching us a few lessons
i. Even when a person who is deliberate in nature and want to be especially deliberate under the circumstance, she can still be tricked by subconscious
ii. We pay attention to the unusual and ignore the usual.
iii. Discomfort helps us to focus on rational cognitive tasks. Being comfortable means we let subconscious take control.
iv. Tragic res
Dec 29, 2014 Anne rated it liked it

I can't really improve on Nikhil P. Freeman's Jul 26, 2011 review, so go read that.

I will just add that my disappointment with this book is probably due to a mismatch between what it is and what I had wanted it to be. What it is: a lightweight, heavily anecdotal introduction to the idea of implicit bias and unconscious decision-making. What I expected: a more in-depth, scientific exploration of the hows and whys. Vedantam cites many studies I've seen discussed elsewhere in more detail--which ma
Sep 21, 2014 Matas rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It wasn't that bad. It had some good points, but nothing mind blowing. To me personally, it lacked depth. It seemed like I was reading a compilation of real life events that can be analyzed in psychological context. And the analysis was average at the very best. The stories where way too long with way too much unnecessary detail. For example:

"It was a lovely April morning in South Philadelphia. Raymond Fiss left his home at seven-thirty carrying a brown bag—lunch his wife, Marie, had packed for
Dec 29, 2016 Aaron rated it really liked it
I'm a fan of the Shankar Vedantam-helmed Hidden Brain podcast, and this book is written around similar themes. In popular culture the subconscious is often used to explain away hidden desires or true intentions, but Vedantam probes into the idea that these beliefs can be more largely explained in the context of a group. The "hidden brain" is responsible for a lot of troubling narratives surrounding why humanity isn't more moral or caring on a pragmatic level. At first this is hard to reconcile - ...more
Apr 11, 2013 Michelle rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, health
This book is about "the hidden brain" or the unconscious biases from the old Stone Age brain that influence us everyday. It used neuroscience and psycholgy to give a balanced an throughtful view of events and behaviors. Whether it was guns do more harm through suicide and accidents in the home that defending the home from danger to people seeking consensus in a diaster or how it influences criminal sentencing.

For me the biggest take away is that we're all racist - even me. It made me reevaluate
Apr 14, 2011 Katherine rated it it was amazing
Vedantam tackles tough issues such as racism and genocide and shows how our "hidden brain" with its systems that evolved over many centuries to tackle survival issues may be influencing our decision making without our conscious awareness. Probably the most interesting chapter for me was the one on terrorists and what drives their behavior. Provocative, well-written and, in the final analysis, optimistic about our chances of a better, more moral world.
Apr 30, 2013 Stephanie rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014
Very interesting discussion of how our unconcious minds work- causing us to sometimes make decisions that are not based on our best interests, or on completely erroneous "facts" that are actually biases that we're not even aware of. It's a bit frustrating to think about how our own brains may be sabotaging our better judgement at times, but I guess it's good to be aware of it so that better judgement can prevail.
Apr 28, 2011 Jane rated it it was amazing
This book gives well-researched insights into how our unconscious thought processes have an impact on everything from how we vote to our reaction (or lack thereof) to genocide. Especially valuable are its policy implications and examples of how this knowledge can be used to influence others. Vedantam does a great job of pointing out what is hopeful and what is disturbing in these discoveries and their implications.
Jan 09, 2017 Grayson rated it it was amazing
I know a fair amount about social psychology, but the way the author and the scientists he cites apply their knowledge to major societal problems is mind blowing. I absolutely loved this book, and recommend it to anyone interested in racism, terrorism, and other problems of modern life. It's brilliant.
Jul 03, 2015 Rashmi rated it really liked it
Thought provoking, insightful... Must read for those of us who think of ourselves as not biased or very logical. We've met our match in the Hidden Brain.
Athar Naser
May 29, 2017 Athar Naser rated it liked it
Having read a handful of books on the same topic, I wanted to reinforce my knowledge and understanding of the current thinking on the unconscious mind. As such, this book did just that. It taught me very little that was new but put some of the core concepts from books like Thinking Fast and Slow into social examples.

The book is not as scientific as others however, I didn't feel like it addressed the science behind the theories of why the unconscious brain operates in the way it does, but it was
Jun 25, 2017 Derek rated it liked it
A very interesting book on our unconscious biases, and where they come from. The book didn't grip me as much as others I've recently read, though I don't know why. It seemed well written and insightful. I found particularly interesting the large-group consensus seeking that plays a role in what we do in emergencies, the small-group dynamics that can play such an important role in our lives, and the telescoping effect of our compassion, something I've puzzled over many times. It was fascinating t ...more
John Calia
Jun 13, 2017 John Calia rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book and found the first two thirds of it to be fascinating. I should say that I picked it up because I enjoy the few minutes that NPR's Morning Edition devotes to Shankar Vedantam's Hidden Brain each week. The book is filled with interesting stories to back up the author's assertions about the effect of our hidden brains on social attitudes and economic decisions. Toward the end, the book gets a little preach-y. Yes, we have a built-in racial bias. Yes, it's damaging to our socia ...more
Nov 18, 2016 Dmitiry rated it it was ok
Shelves: brain, behavior
First thing which comes about this book - social experiment about coffee and picture. How do people behave in situation of self-service and watching eyes from the pic. Author describes some examples of confirmation bias in which we live all happily.
Of course our inner feelings are very selective - we can send $100 for rescue little puppy from sinking boat, but we will never help starving African children. We behave differently to men and women, sexism of course. We all have inner racist. But wh
Jeff Ferguson
Jul 11, 2017 Jeff Ferguson rated it it was ok
Love Vedantam's work on NPR and his pod casts, but this book left me cold. Has some good thoughts on our internal bias, but I didn't like the examples. The book opens with a description of a rape and the wrongful conviction. The chapter on herd mentality used the example of a brutal attack and death of a young women in front of many witnesses, then segued into 9/11. Another chapter describes 2 murders and the how and why the convictions differed. Maybe not fair, but I wished he found some less v ...more
Jul 26, 2017 Ronald rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 19, 2016 Jen rated it it was ok
I was disappointed. As a fan of Vidantham's NPR segments, I was expecting so much more.

Maybe it's because he is a journalist that his writing is so pedantic. Phrases like, "in this chapter I will..." And "later in the book I will discuss.." drive me crazy. When he does discuss a topic he goes on and on and on as if we readers can't possibly understand the point in 10 fewer paragraphs.

Many of the examples are anecdotes I've seen elsewhere, and some of the anecdotes seem to be platforms for the
Michael Woods
A very good review of the science behind unconscious biases. The author takes stories from the media to illustrate the findings and to help the reader see how these concepts operate in real life situations. I listened to the audio version of the book and the narrator does well with the material. I enjoyed listening to this and felt challenged to be more conscious of my own biases and how they affect my feelings and decisions.
Gabrielle Adams
Jul 27, 2017 Gabrielle Adams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quick, engaging read, well-illustrated through interesting anecdotes. Perhaps not the most scientific, but this book is presented for its intended (mass) audience and, I think, achieves its goal of inviting the reader to consider the role of unconscious bias in our lives and culture. I found it illuminating and certainly relevant. Worth a read!
Kathy Dalton
Jul 06, 2017 Kathy Dalton rated it liked it
I found this to be somewhat interesting, and I'm sure it's information I'll refer back to in conversation and in analysis of everyday events. I'm glad I read it.

I'm giving it 3 stars because it was overly repetitive. I really had a hard time finishing this, despite its short length. Despite my mild interest, it was just not gripping.
Jun 20, 2017 Jen rated it it was amazing
There was a lot of interesting information and so many different sociological and psychological studies done to show what goes on in our brains that we don't know about.

It is somewhat old, and since it talks about politics, there were times it felt dated. Still, I recommend this book to anyone and everyone.
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“Author compares the impact of biases to his experience as an average swimmer who overcame a considerable fear of water. While the swimming was easy in one particular experience, he was internally congratulating himself on his acquired skill. But when he realized he was swimming with a current he would now have to fight against, he realized just how definite his limits were.” 2 likes
“There might well be deep evolutionary reasons for these fears; it made sense, millennia ago, to fear situations where we had no control and situations that involved malevolent attackers. In our modern world, however, the things we really ought to fear are almost entirely of our own doing. Failing to climb the stairs and get enough exercise kills far more people than any number of murderers climbing those stairs. You are at far greater risk of taking your own life than being killed by a terrorist. If you were to go strictly by the numbers, that cigarette in your hand ought to have you screaming louder than a chance encounter with Hannibal Lecter.” 1 likes
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