The Hidden Brain Book Summary - The Hidden Brain Book explained in key points
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The Hidden Brain summary

Shankar Vedantam

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

3.8 (168 ratings)
23 mins

Brief summary

"The Hidden Brain" by Shankar Vedantam delves into the unconscious biases that shape our behavior, beliefs, and decision-making. It sheds light on the ways our hidden brain influences our thinking and offers insights into how we can overcome these biases.

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    The Hidden Brain
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    Key idea 1 of 8

    Evidence of the hidden brain is all around us.

    Have you seen the movie The Matrix? In the film, Keanu Reeves’s character, Neo, discovers that the world is a simulated reality designed and controlled by robots. This simulation is called the Matrix. Unlike other humans, Neo gains the ability to see and manipulate the Matrix’s code, which gives him the power to emancipate humanity from the simulation.

    The Matrix is an improbable sci-fi action flick – and yet it does shed some light on reality. No, we aren’t controlled by robots. But we are controlled by invisible forces. Though we’re oblivious to it, our unconscious mind constantly influences our most basic perceptions.

    Our brains are designed to hide these invisible forces. But even if we never feel ourselves being manipulated, studies show that the processes of the hidden brain are always at play.

    The key message here is: Evidence of the hidden brain is all around us.

    Melissa Bateson is a researcher who tracked a beverage station at an office in Newcastle for ten weeks. The beverage station dispensed coffee, tea, and milk using an honor system. Posted at eye level was a sheet of paper listing the cost of each beverage. Users put money into an honor box to make their payment.

    This particular station was in a secluded location, far from the eyes of onlookers who might keep people accountable for their payment. Users did not know that someone was tracking the box. Nor did they consciously register a small image at the top of the notice sheet – an image that Bateson changed every week.

    During the five odd-numbered weeks, the image featured various pictures of eyes downloaded from the internet. During the even weeks, it showed nothing but flowers.

    Bateson discovered something surprising. When the notice depicted images of eyes, users contributed three times more than they did when the image featured flowers. Even an image in one’s peripheral vision had the power to influence people’s contributions.

    But it’s not just images that influence our behavior. A study by psychologist Rick van Baaran conducted at an Applebee’s restaurant in the Dutch town of Heerlen found that when a waitress repeated a customer's order verbatim, the customer gave, on average, a 140 percent larger tip than when she paraphrased the order. 

    Baaran’s research showed how people respond positively when they feel in sync with each other. The customers may not have been aware of it, but their choice to give a higher tip was determined by their hidden brain.

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    What is The Hidden Brain about?

    The Hidden Brain (2010) reveals the function and effects of our unconscious lives. In our increasingly interconnected world, unconscious biases and errors influence our memories, judgments, and perceptions and shape our social, economic, and political institutions.

    The Hidden Brain Review

    The Hidden Brain (2010) by Shankar Vedantam sheds light on the unconscious forces that shape our thoughts, actions, and decisions. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Bringing together fascinating psychological research and real-life examples, it uncovers the hidden biases and patterns that influence our behavior, challenging our understanding of ourselves.
    • With its thought-provoking insights on topics like stereotypes, memory, and social dynamics, it deepens our understanding of how our brains operate on an unconscious level.
    • The book's accessible writing style makes complex concepts easy to grasp, ensuring an enjoyable and engaging reading experience throughout.

    Best quote from The Hidden Brain

    We are programmed to trust our memories, judgments, and perceptions.

    —Shankar Vedantam
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    Who should read The Hidden Brain?

    • White people interested in understanding unconscious racial bias
    • Parents and teachers
    • Students of neuroscience or psychology

    About the Author

    Shankar Vedantam is an American journalist, writer, and social-science correspondent for NPR. From 2006 to 2009, he wrote about the hidden brain in his Washington Post column “Department of Human Behavior.” His popular podcast Hidden Brain has over two million downloads per week, and the Hidden Brain radio show is broadcasted to around 250 public radio shows.

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    The Hidden Brain FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Hidden Brain?

    The main message of The Hidden Brain is understanding how our unconscious biases influence our thoughts and actions.

    How long does it take to read The Hidden Brain?

    The reading time for The Hidden Brain can vary, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just a few minutes.

    Is The Hidden Brain a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Hidden Brain is a thought-provoking read that offers insights into the human mind. It is definitely worth your time.

    Who is the author of The Hidden Brain?

    The author of The Hidden Brain is Shankar Vedantam.

    What to read after The Hidden Brain?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Hidden Brain, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow
    • The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
    • The Person You Mean to Be by Dolly Chugh
    • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
    • The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
    • Quiet by Susan Cain
    • Coming Alive by Barry Michels and Phil Stutz
    • Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    • Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
    • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman