Month: May 2020

The Time Machine

In recent months, many of us have looked back with longing at our lives before COVID-19. For many of us, that world was one of bustle and activity — marked by scenes of packed restaurants, crowded subway cars, and chaotic playgrounds. In this audio essay, Shankar discusses our wistfulness for the world before the pandemic, and why such nostalgia can actually help to orient us toward the future.

The People Like Us

Far from being “the great equalizer,” COVID-19 has disproportionately sickened and killed African Americans and Latinos in the U.S. Many of the reasons for these inequalities reach back to before the pandemic began. This week, we return to a 2019 episode that investigates a specific source of racial disparities in medicine and beyond—and considers an uncomfortable solution.

Our Better Angels

In the months since the spread of the coronavirus, stories of selfishness and exploitation have become all too familiar: people ignoring social distancing guidelines, or even selling medical equipment at inflated prices. Most of our public and economic policies take aim at these sorts of people — the wrongdoers and the profiteers. But is there a hidden cost to the rest of us when we put bad actors at the center of our thinking? Do the measures we put in place to curtail the selfish inadvertently hurt our capacity to do right by others?

A Hidden Brain Commencement Address

Commencement ceremonies allow us to take stock of what we’ve accomplished and where we’re headed. This is one of the key opportunities that students and families have lost, as social distancing precautions lead schools to cancel in-person graduations. In this “commencement address,” recorded at the request of the public radio program 1A, Shankar Vedantam offers thoughts on what it means to mark such a milestone at this moment, and how graduates can use the disruption caused by the pandemic to think about their lives in new ways.

The Dramatic Cure

In recent months, many of us have become familiar with the sense of fear expressing itself in our bodies. We may feel restless or physically exhausted. At times, we may even have trouble catching our breath. The deep connection between mind and body that seems so salient now was also at the center of our episode about the placebo effect. This week, we return to this 2019 story that asks what placebos might teach us about the nature of healing.

The Choices Before Us

An abundance of choices is a good thing, right? In the United States, where choice is often equated with freedom and control, the answer tends to be a resounding ‘yes.’ But researchers say the relationship between choice and happiness isn’t always so clear-cut. This week, we talk with psychologist Sheena Iyengar about making better decisions, and how she’s thinking about the relationship between choices and control during the coronavirus pandemic.


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