book review | The Hidden Brain

January 18, 2010

Source: The New York Times — | Susan Pinker

In The Hidden Brain, writer Shankar Vedantam explores the unconscious mind, focusing on covert influences on human behavior. Invisible forces that control our behavior have inspired our best story­tellers, from Euripides to Steven Spielberg. Whether we’re yanked around by jealous gods, Oedipal urges or poltergeists, the idea that we feel powerless to direct our own actions has a visceral appeal, one exploited by Shankar Vedantam in The Hidden Brain, his exploration of the unconscious mind.

Most previous popular treatments of subliminal forces haven’t been data driven. Vedantam, who until recently wrote the Department of Human Behavior column for The Washington Post, hopes to fill that gap. His entertaining romp through covert influences on human behavior began as a series of columns, and true to its genesis, it reads as vivid reportage overlaid with a sampling of science.

Ranging widely from the role of social conformity in violence to snapshots of racial and gender prejudice, Vedantam draws expansive arcs between findings from social psychology and the nation’s sensibilities and voting patterns. “Unconscious bias reaches into every corner of your life,” he writes, thanks to a “hidden brain” generally inaccessible through introspection. [...]