The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam [Book Summary – Review]


It is believed by most of us that we act according to information and conscious purpose. It is this belief that not just informs our personal experiences, but also underpins our social, economic, and political institutions.

But how true is it? When you look at science, the solution to this question suits the disturbingly clear: not much.

According to various studies, most of our time was wasted by us on autopilot. In many ways, this is a great thing. Senseless cognitive mechanisms permit us to drive the globe smoothly from the moment we are born. However, this comes with some little positive side effects. Unavoidably, senseless forces affect our memories, judgments, and perceptions. This summary shows you that it will be learned to you about the unconscious biases and mistakes that the author calls the hidden brain.



Chapter 1 – Everywhere, there is found proof of a hidden brain.


Have you seen the film The Matrix? In the movie, by Keanu Reeves’ character Neo, it is found out that the globe is a simulated reality designed and checked by robots. This simulation is named Matrix. Unlike other human-beings, Neo gets the talent to see and manipulate the Matrix’s code, which gives him the power to free humanity from the simulation.

The Matrix is ​​an unexpected sci-fi action movie – but it still sheds some light on the truth. No, robots don’t control us. However, hidden forces control us. Although we are not aware of this, our senseless mind steadily affects our most basic perceptions.

What is created to withhold these invisible forces, is our brains. However, even if we never sense manipulated, research shows that the processes of the hidden brain are always at work.

Melissa Bateson is a researcher who watched a beverage station in an office in Newcastle for ten weeks. In the beverage station, coffee, tea, and milk were distributed by an honor system. At eye level, an article was published listing the cost of each drink. Cash is put by users in an honor box to make their payments.



It was this station that was in a secluded place, out of the eyes of the audience that could hold people accountable for their payments. It was not known by users that someone was following the box. Nor did they intentionally save a small image at the top of the ad page, an image that Bateson switches every week.

For five odd-numbered weeks, the image included various downloaded eye pictures from the internet. The couple showed nothing but flowers for weeks.

By Bateson, it was found something surprising. When eye images were shown in the notification, three times more than they did with flowers in the image was contributed by users. From an environmental point of view, what had the power to affect people’s contributions was even an image.

However, it’s not the only thing that images affect our behavior. According to a study by psychologist Rick van Baaran, in an Applebee restaurant in the Dutch town of Heerlen it was discovered that when a waiter copied a customer’s order, they left a mean of 140 percent more tips than the client’s order.

It was demonstrated in research of Baaran on how human-beings react positively when they sense in sync with each other. It was dictated by hidden minds that although customers were unaware of this, they were still inclined to give a higher tip.


Chapter 2 – It is the hidden brain that is the fundamental of our social actions.


As has been learned by us, what we are mostly oblivious of in our daily lives is the hidden brain. However, the hidden brain is more than just a glitch in our cognitive function. Besides, our subliminal leads us around the globe and regulates our social interactions.

What neuroscientists do not have is an exact understanding of how unconscious cognitive mechanisms work. However, by them, it was discerned what happens in patients with situations that influence parts of the brain thought to control these mechanisms.

His wife Wendy’s death in 2005 was discerned by Brian McNamara. At first, it was assumed by Wendy’s family that his escape was a mark of depression. However, then Wendy’s situation worsened. Interacting with human-beings in completely socially unacceptable ways was started by her. Once she followed a stranger to ask if she could see his tattoos.

Finally, Wendy was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, a disease that disrupts the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.

It is human-beings with frontotemporal dementia who have lost many of the unconscious cognitive mechanisms that regulate their social action and their talent to form judgments. They are now in police custody for crimes such as theft – norms that unconsciously direct most of our actions because they ignore social norms like shame or criticism. In a study, it was discovered that frontotemporal dementia patients who broke the law did not regret even though they admitted that their actions were wrong.



Schizophrenia is another situation that explains how our unconscious mind regulates our actions. It is believed by scientists that human-beings with schizophrenia have lost their talent to read facial expressions due to changes in their brains in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. When people lose their talent to read facial expressions, they also lose the ability to make quick, unconscious judgments about individuals and scenarios. This explains why some human-beings with schizophrenia experience paranoia.

By the writer, it was discerned this firsthand while having lunch with a friend who enhanced schizophrenia. The people, who his friend commented unfriendly on the waiter’s hostile attitude, are unable to read his facial expressions.

When convincing the waiter was tried by the writer that he didn’t require to be suspicious, his friend asked them to change plates. The absence of his senseless mind could not rule out the probability that the writer and the waiter were plotting to poison him.


Chapter 3 – It is the hidden brain that guides kids to create senseless racial prejudices.


People are ready to identify faces. Sensible. Knowing my mother gives us food and security, and thus her face becomes a representation of security. Before long, our talent to recognize faces in our ethnic group assists us to orient ourselves in a particular culture.

Sadly, it is this senseless evolutionary feature that means we can distinguish faces less from foreign ethnic groups. Now, the worldwide prevalence of American popular culture has created inequality in global representation. And when it comes to how whites comprehend Blacks in North America; the hidden brain’s senseless bias comes at a price.

In a study by Canadian psychologist Frances Aboud with preschool children in Montreal, it was discovered that racial bias began at a surprisingly young age. 80 white children were asked by Aboud to attach adjectives such as “rude”, “dirty”, “good” or “kind” to a picture of a white person or a picture of a Black person. In the study, it was discovered that 70 percent of children associate almost per positive descriptor with white faces, while negative adjectives associate Black faces.

While it may seem disturbing, it lays bare a lot about senseless racial prejudice because young kids have not yet developed conscious ideas about racism.



It is significant to remark that the parents of these kids were not consciously racist. Hence, what was the reason that their kids have racial biases?

It was discovered by Aboud that kids believe in the fact that they live in an overwhelmingly white globe. Even if a child had several Black friends, what dominated television shows, storybooks, and the globe around them was white people.

Hold on to relational patterns, their hidden minds concluded that whites are good and Blacks are distinct, even if their parents do not share these views.

Also, the racial bias of these kids was so strong that they continued to preserve their prejudices against the kids even when Aboud’s researchers read a story about a heroic little Black boy. Shared their views were even believed by research assistants, involving a Black one. Just when researchers highlighted the love for interracial friendships in the tale did the kids admit that the researchers did not share their prejudices against Blacks.

Based on his research, it was concluded by Aboud that white parents who fear their kids improve prejudice should not avoid talking about race. Rather, by them, it should be openly promoted racial tolerance through storytelling and argument.


Chapter 4 – It is senseless prejudice that affects political choices.


There are very few people who recognize themselves as racist. However, just like children, senseless racial prejudices are created by adults based on associative patterns in the globe around them.

Even though there are certainly consciously racist people, by the writer, it is believed these human-beings belong to a minority. Senseless prejudice is the actual issue.

The Implicit Association Test was taken by millions of individuals. What is measured by the test that was created by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald of Washington University, is senseless biases. And its consequences revolutionized this kind of biased research.

Using data from the test, a map of the USA occurred by the American psychologist Brian Nosek, comparing senseless prejudices with political affiliations. It was discovered by Nosek that, on average, regions with higher degrees of racial bias tend to vote for Republican candidates.

Tending to vote for Democrats by the black majority population is one of the reasons for this. However, a closer look at the most important conservative issues since the 1970s, such as the abolition of prosperity programs, lays bare that many of these issues highlight senseless prejudices.



It was discovered by Martin Gilens of Princeton University that if they comprehended that a black woman enjoys welfare, white Americans are more likely to have hostile views on well-being. It was also Gilens who discovered that although white people were the primary beneficiaries of the system, volunteers were more likely to associate benefits with the Black population.

Unluckily, unconscious prejudices are used by politicians, often for their benefit. In the 1988 presidential election, an advertisement was published in the campaign of Republican candidate George H. W. Bush, featuring Willie Horton, who was convicted of rape and murder. It was Bush who was accused of using racist prejudice for concentrating on Horton’s face and playing the unconscious racism of voters who associate Blacks with a crime.

Who are not alone in playing with senseless prejudices is Republican politicians. When Barack Obama’s former pastor, it has come to the fore with radical views on Black rights during the 2008 presidential election, the position of Obama was taken up by him on this issue, acknowledging the anger that Blacks and whites have for each other. In his speech, Obama talked about his white heritage and then escaped talking about racial injustice. By him, it was known he was playing to a white audience.

It was agreed by specialists like psychologist Drew Westen that if Obama had darker skin color or had spoken more clearly of race, he probably wouldn’t have been elected the first Black president of the United States.


Chapter 5 – It is the hidden brain that occurs in racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.


It is the fact that racial prejudices affect the criminal justice system in the United States, which may be obvious to some Black Americans. Still, for many white people that means a complete redesign of the criminal justice system is to accept it.

To examine the impacts of prejudice on the criminal justice system, Jennifer Eberhardt, and other researchers at Stanford University, it was analyzed over six hundred criminal cases seriously adequate to abolish the death penalty. From these cases, by researchers, photographs of Blacks convicted of killing whites were chosen.

Given how “stereotypically African” the individual in the picture looked, the human-beings who were asked to evaluate per picture were volunteers who did not know that the photographs were convicts. In the study, it was discovered that defendants perceived as stereotypically Black properties were more than twice as likely to receive the death penalty than Black defendants with more stereotyped white characteristics.

Between the photos shown to Eberhardt’s volunteers was that of Ernest Porter who was accused of killing a man called Raymond Fiss. Porter was captured by the police six days after Fiss was killed in a chase following a jeweler’s robbery. In a case that lasted less than an hour, Porter was discovered guilty and punished to death.

However, by Porter, it was claimed that when the police grabbed him, he took a step forward and knew nothing about the robbery or the murder of Fiss. If by you it was looked at his case, there is a large amount of proof to support his claims.



It was first admitted by the officer who captured Porter that he had lost sight of the man he chased after the robbery. Second, the jeweler’s owner, who at the beginning identified Porter, following, withdrew his statement and said he knew he hadn’t robbed Porter’s store. Third, Porter was together with his girlfriend and mother in the morning when Fiss was killed. However, none of them were invited to show up as witnesses. And fourth, the person who was popular for giving the death punishment was the judge Albert Sabo, who presided over the trial.

Porter may be to blame. However, based on these revelations, it is obvious that the appearance of Ernest Porter influenced each link in the chain of prosecution. – the police officer who arrested him, the jury who convicted him, and the judge who sentenced him –

What is the shape of crime in the eyes of the punishment justice system is blackness itself.


Chapter 6 – It is senseless prejudice that sabotages women in the expert globe.


The person who swims to a deserted spot away from the main snorkeling area was the writer while taking a vacation on the Mexican island of Isla Mujeres. When he turned around, he was shot with terrifying awareness. The ocean current had helped her journey around the bay. Without the fins or the lifejacket, swimming would be a fight. He eventually succeeded, but barely and his struggle was extremely tiring.

Another insight was gained by the writer, who reflected on the event: It was the experience of swimming with the current that was like senseless gender prejudice that helped most men in their expert lives.

Many women progress in their careers thinking less valuable than their male counterparts. Furthermore, as regards science, they are. It is shown in the studies that 77 cents are earned by female full-time workers for each dollar earned by their male colleagues.

Yet, individual experiences are often too abstract to sue gender discrimination, as salaries are often not transparent. This was the case for Lilly Ledbetter until 1998 when she discovered a mysterious note in her mailbox at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. The note listed Lilly’s base wage and the wages of four other executives at the factory in Gadsden, Alabama. It was not known to Lilly why she got the note. However, it was the numbers confirming that his monthly wage, which was under $4,000, was three times lower than his male counterparts.



Lilly has worked for 19 years and therefore registered a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The case even reached the Court of Cassation, but her complaint was rejected as it was filed decades after the discrimination happened.

The fact that Lilly’s case was rejected based on technical information guided to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Payment Act 2009. The purpose of the bill signed by President Barack Obama was at providing a fair hearing for victims of wage discrimination.

Well sure, there will always be human-beings who believe that, despite the judgment of women, there is no senseless prejudice. It was discovered by Madeline Heilman of New York University that four out of five volunteers unconsciously preferred a male manager to a female manager. The clash of power and masculinity that we unconsciously associate with leadership with compassionate, maternal femininity stereotypes may be the reason for this.

The bottom line is this: If it is desired to switch the way women are perceived in the workplace by us, we’ll be required to talk about senseless prejudice.


Chapter 7 – People who follow group trends are disaster sufferers.


When a plane smashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 08:46 on September 11, the workers of Keefe, Bruyette, and Woods in the adjacent South Tower heard the sound of the earthquake.

It was an investment banking company that spread from the 88th floor to the 89th floor. It was unknown to anyone on the two floors that 16 minutes later, a second United Airlines plane would crash into their building, the South Tower. However, this is where the similarities between the two floors end. While the people on the 89th floor remained where they were, almost all of them died. People on the 88th floor were removed and almost all of them survived.

Evolutionarily, giving us security and comfort was to stay connected to the group. Therefore, it’s not surprising that in times of disaster the hidden brain tells us to adapt to the group mentality.

After the North Tower was hit during the 9/11 attacks, by human-beings on the 89th side, it was accepted about staying in place. It was the debris in the building that reinforced the group’s decision when it took the risk of crashing into the building in an announcement instructing employees to stay where they were.



Although a similar consensus was formed on the 88th floor, later it was started running by J.J. Aguiar shouting that they should leave quickly. Thanks to Aguiar’s action, everyone was shaken by their compatibility and almost all of them left the construction.

The correct decision was not made by the people on the 88th floor. It was unpredictable by Aguiar that an airplane between floors 77 and 85 would break into the construction and kill everyone on it. And if the plane had smashed several floors below, it could have been the 89th-floor quota remaining.

What saved the lives of his co-workers on the 88th floor was Aguiar’s leadership. Aguiar died in the disaster when he went upstairs to remove more individuals.

Although, it is the difference between these two groups that lays bare how individuals adapt to the human-beings around them in emergencies.

Keep this in mind, how can our emergency action plans be developed by us? It can be a way for companies to train selected workers to comprehend the dangers of group mentality in times of crisis. In this way, a suitably frozen group will be encouraged by at least one person to leave the construction when the fire alarm goes off.


Chapter 8 – It is a group of norms that actuate suicide terrorists.


Not restricted to our response to a disaster, the hidden brain is the congruence bias. On the other side of the coin, it also exposes the psychology of the terrorists.

By most human-beings, it is assumed that suicide terrorists are actuated by only one and one thing: religious fanaticism. The people who are prepared to die because they believe their sacrifices will be awarded in the afterlife are Al Qaeda suicide bombers. Or the theory goes like that.

However, it has been discovered by terrorist researchers that religious fanaticism is not an adequate explanation when it comes to comprehending suicidal terrorism. Two-thirds of suicide attacks in Lebanon were carried out by laical organizations.

Well, what actuates terrorists?

It was a suicide that lays bare that terrorists were actuated by the wish to see themselves as an important part of their social group rather than religious fanaticism. During the 2004 Madrid train bombing, it was seen by the American anthropologist Scott Atran that Al Qaeda was not actively collecting bombardments. Alternatively, Al Qaeda was searched by the bombers themselves.

By Atran, communities were visited near the Spanish border in Morocco, which many Al Qaeda terrorists once called home. There were found young men roaming in cafes, engaging in storytelling, and negative portrayal of Islam. A man was even sworn by a man that if he was given an opportunity in front of his six-year-old son, he would be a martyr.



However, what is not as simple as you think is to attend a terrorist group. It is studied by terrorist groups similarly to private clubs as they set a high bar for their members. And as far as the act of terrorism itself is concerned, groups have rituals that reinforce the terrorist’s opportunities for fulfilling her mission.

For instance, videos of suicide bombers boasted of their actions by al-Qaeda before going on a mission are being shot. It is these videos that have a twin function of creating propaganda and blackmailing terrorists to fulfill their duties.

This blackmail operates efficiently, as suicide bombers belong to a society where others are terrorists. By them, it is known that their families will be honored for what they have done. Therefore, when it comes to pulling the trigger, their duty for the survival of the group is higher than the worth of their own lives.

In brief, the senseless forces of the hidden brain, just like the rest of us affect the terrorists.


The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives by Shankar Vedantam Book Review


It is our senseless lives that assist us to travel the world, improve our relationships, and regulate our social action. Yet our sensitivity to biases and mistakes has not been recognized by most of us. By finding out about the hidden brain, our knowledge of unconscious bias can be used by us to design more effective social and economic institutions.


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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

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