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The Hidden Brain


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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. (Jan. 19) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

In language that will be accessible to many readers, science journalist Vedantam (columnist, "Department of Human Behavior," Washington Post) writes about "unconscious biases" in language. According to him, our unconscious biases exert a good deal more control over our lives than most of us realize, in areas ranging from first impressions to how we vote. Vedantam draws on scientific research about the brain as well as anecdotes gleaned from his work as a journalist, all to present a picture of what he terms the "hidden brain." The results make for compelling reading about how our minds work without our knowledge, but some casual readers might be confused about what represents the author's opinion and what comes from the academic literature. (The book lacks end notes or bibliography.) Verdict This book will appeal to fans of Vedantam's column, as well as others interested in reading about this subject in lay readers' terms and through personal anecdotes. Serious scholars of the social sciences will probably feel that Vedantam's conclusions are somewhat oversimplified. [See "Prepub Exploded," BookSmack!, 8/6/09.]-Madeline Mundt, Univ. of Nevada Lib., Reno Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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