Alix Spiegel

Alix Spiegel has worked on NPR's Science Desk for 10 years covering psychology and human behavior, and has reported on everything from what it's like to kill another person, to the psychology behind our use of function words like "and", "I", and "so." She began her career in 1995 as one of the founding producers of the public radio program This American Life. While there, Spiegel produced her first psychology story, which ultimately led to her focus on human behavior. It was a piece called 81 Words, and it examined the history behind the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

In January 2015, Spiegel joined NPR Science Reporter Lulu Miller to co-host Invisibilia, a series from NPR about the unseen forces that control human behavior – our ideas, beliefs, assumptions, and thoughts. Invisibilia interweaves personal stories with fascinating psychological and brain science, in a way that ultimately makes you see your own life differently. Excerpts of the show are featured on the NPR News programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. The program is also available as a podcast.

Over the course of her career in public radio, Spiegel has won many awards including a George Foster Peabody Award, a Livingston Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, a Scripps Howard National Journalism Award, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Spiegel graduated from Oberlin College. Her work on human behavior has also appeared in The New Yorker magazine and The New York Times.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWseEycdXS8 This week's Invisibilia podcast and show explore what happens when people flip the script, responding to situations in ways that are completely unexpected. We tend to respond to aggression with aggression, kindness with kindness. Usually that works just fine. But sometimes turning 180 degrees can change the world. Think Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. In this Invisibilia excerpt on NPR's Morning Edition, we tell the tale of a mellow...

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the latest episode of the Invisibilia podcast and program, which is broadcast on participating public radio stations. Until she was 54 years old, Kim was totally unaware that there were things in the world she couldn't see. "This was the whole problem," Kim says. "I had no clue what the problem was." All Kim knew was that over and over and over again the world didn't respond the way she expected. People would say things and do things that seemed...

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mWc1Y2dpmY Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the latest episode of the Invisibilia podcast and program, which is broadcast on participating public radio stations. This story contains language that some may find offensive. This is the story of a prisoner who committed a horrible crime and says he's no longer the same person who did it. It's also the story of why it's so hard for us to believe him. In the early 1960s, a young psychologist at Harvard...

Editor's note: This story first ran on Jan. 16, 2015 , as part of NPR's Invisibilia podcast. It's about a man who decided he no longer wanted to be ruled by fear. Without realizing it, he used a standard tool of psychotherapy to help him stop dreading rejection. And if you've been dreading a future without Invisibilia, fear not — we're hard at work on Season Two! We can't reveal what we're working on right now, but rest assured that this season won't include any snakes. Just a lion. The...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZnJJMoPE1w In this episode of Invisibilia, NPR's new show about human behavior, we wanted to explore entanglements: the invisible ways we're entangled with each other. So we called a comedian. I'm a fan of Maria Bamford, who has done impressions of her mother throughout her career: "My mom told me before I went to my first girl-boy party in the eighth grade: 'OK, remember what we talked about — gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, 1, 2. Watch the cold sores. Date rape...

Fear is one of the strongest and most basic of human emotions, and it's the focus of Fearless, the second episode of Invisibilia , NPR's new show on the invisible forces that shape human behavior. This segment of the show explores how a man decided to conquer his fear of rejection by getting rejected every day — on purpose. The evolution of Jason Comely, a freelance IT guy from Cambridge, Ontario, began one sad night several years ago. "That Friday evening that I was in my one-bedroom...

It's a tradition as old as New Year's: making resolutions. We will not smoke, or sojourn with the bucket of mint chocolate chip. In fact, we will resist sweets generally, including the bowl of M&M's that our co-worker has helpfully positioned on the aisle corner of his desk. There will be exercise, and the learning of a new language. It is resolved. So what does science know about translating our resolve into actual changes in behavior? The answer to this question brings us — strangely enough...

One Friday night, 30 men and 30 women gathered at a hotel restaurant in Washington, D.C. Their goal was love, or maybe sex, or maybe some combination of the two. They were there for speed dating. The women sat at separate numbered tables while the men moved down the line, and for two solid hours they did a rotation, making small talk with people they did not know, one after another, in three-minute increments. I had gone to record the night, which was put on by a company called Professionals...

The modern idea of stress began on a rooftop in Canada, with a handful of rats freezing in the winter wind. This was 1936 and by that point the owner of the rats, an endocrinologist named Hans Selye, had become expert at making rats suffer for science. "He would subject them to extreme temperatures, make them go hungry for long periods, or make them exercise a lot," the medical historian Mark Jackson says. "Then what he would do is kill the rats and look at their organs." What was interesting...

This story is in no way an endorsement of suicide. It's a description of one woman's choice and what came of it. Five years ago, after doctors told her that she had Alzheimer's disease that would eventually steal her ability to read, write and recognize people, Sandy Bem decided to kill herself. Sandy was 65 years old, an unsentimental woman and strong willed. For her, a life without books and the ability to recognize the people she loved wasn't a life she wanted. And so she decided there was...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIfhxt0JCok It was late, almost 9 at night, when Justin Holden pulled the icy pizza box from the refrigerator at the Brookville Supermarket in Washington, D.C. He stood in front of the open door, scanning the nutrition facts label. A close relative had recently had a heart attack, and in the back of his mind there was this idea stalking him: If he put too much salt in his body, it would eventually kill him. For this reason the information in the label wasn't...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH45A6ek45s A couple of years ago, music psychologist Elizabeth Margulis decided to make some alterations to the music of Luciano Berio . Berio was one of the most famous classical composers of the 20th century, a man internationally recognized for the dramatic power of his compositions. But Margulis didn't worry much about disrupting Berio's finely crafted music. After loading his most famous piece into a computer editing program, she just randomly started...

The morning I met Elaine Rich, she was sitting at the kitchen table of her small town home in suburban Maryland trying to estimate refugee flows in Syria. It wasn't the only question she was considering; there were others: Will North Korea launch a new multistage missile before May 10, 2014? Will Russian armed forces enter Kharkiv, Ukraine, by May 10? Rich's answers to these questions would eventually be evaluated by the intelligence community, but she didn't feel much pressure because this...

On Feb. 21, Alexandra Wolff ate steak, mashed potatoes and broccoli for dinner. Later that night, sitting in her room, she spent 20 minutes scanning pictures in InStyle magazine. She remembers those things, just as she remembers that on Aug. 2 she stopped at Target and bought Raisin Bran; and on April 17 she wore a white button-down shirt; and on Oct. 2 she went to TGI Fridays and spoke to the hostess, who was wearing black leather flats with small bows on them. Alexandra Wolff has what's...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejczMs6b1Q4 Her hair is brown and tied back into a professional-looking ponytail. She wears a blue shirt, tan sweater and delicate gold chain. It's the first time she has met the man sitting across from her, and she looks out at him, her eyes curious. "So how are you doing today?" she asks cautiously, trying to build rapport. "I'm doing well," he answers. His eyes blink. "That's good," she continues. "Where are you from originally?" "I'm from L.A.," he tells her...

Patricia East is a developmental psychologist who began her career working at an OB-GYN clinic in California. Thursday mornings at the clinic were reserved for pregnant teens, and when East arrived the waiting room would be packed with them, chair after chair of pregnant adolescents. It was in this waiting room, East explains, that she discovered her life's work — an accidental discovery that emerged from the small talk that staff at the clinic had with their young clients as they walked them...

From the first explosion in Boston on Monday to the second, just 15 seconds elapsed. And in those 15 seconds, three people were mortally wounded, including an 8-year-old boy. The number of injured topped 100, and for those of us watching, it was a profound reminder of a reality we'd prefer to ignore. "When these things happen, it reminds you of the fragility of life, and that death is something that can happen very suddenly, very unexpectedly," says Jeff Greenberg , a psychologist at the...

All day long we're surrounded by faces. We see them on the subway sitting two by two, pass them on the sidewalk as we make our way to work, then nod to them in the elevator. But most of those faces don't tell us much about the emotional life of the person behind the face. "People don't just go around the world smiling or grimacing or frowning," says psychologist Marcus Munafo of the University of Bristol. "The majority of the facial expressions that you come into contact with — people walking...

Were people happier in the 1950s than they are today? Or were they more frustrated, repressed and sad? To find out, you'd have to compare the emotions of one generation to another. British anthropologists think they may have found the answer — embedded in literature. Several years ago, more or less on a lark, a group of researchers from England used a computer program to analyze the emotional content of books from every year of the 20th century — close to a billion words in millions of books....

Ever since she was a small child, Samantha Grimaldo has had to carry her voice with her. Grimaldo was born with a rare disorder, Perisylvian syndrome, which means that though she's physically capable in many ways, she's never been able to speak. Instead, she's used a device to speak. She types in what she wants to say, and the device says those words out loud. Her mother, Ruane Grimaldo, says that when Samantha was very young, the voice she used came in a heavy gray box. "She used to have to...

Why do some children who grow up in poverty do well, while others struggle? To understand more about this, a group of psychologists recently did a study . It began in a small spare room where a series of very poor mothers and their 5-month-old babies came to watch a soothing video. Soothing the baby was the point, says Elisabeth Conradt, a postdoctoral researcher at Brown University's Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk . The researchers needed to take measurements of the babies...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo This story begins with a group of people who are expert at looking: the professional searchers known as radiologists. "If you watch radiologists do what they do, [you're] absolutely convinced that they are like superhuman," says Trafton Drew , an attention researcher at Harvard Medical School. About three years ago, Drew started visiting the dark, cavelike "reading rooms" where radiologists do their work. For hours he would stand watching them, in...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Kf9coMuVuI In 2007, Christoph Bartneck , a robotics professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, decided to stage an experiment loosely based on the famous (and infamous) Milgram obedience study. In Milgram's study, research subjects were asked to administer increasingly powerful electrical shocks to a person pretending to be a volunteer "learner" in another room. The research subject would ask a question, and whenever the learner made a mistake,...

About a month ago, Declan Procaccini's 10-year-old son woke him early in the morning in a fright. "He came into my bedroom and said, 'Dad, I had a horrible, horrible dream!' " Procaccini says. "He was really shaken up. I said, 'Tell me about it,' and he told me he'd had a dream that a teenager came into his classroom at his school and shot all the kids in front of him." Procaccini's son is a sensitive kid, frequently anxious, so Procaccini did what he often does when his son crawls into his...

This weekend, 20 people from around the country will meet in a nondescript hotel room in Arlington, Va., and take a vote. A passing stranger who stumbled on this group wouldn't see much of anything, just a bunch of graying academic types sitting around a table. But millions of people will be touched by that vote because the graying academic types are voting to approve the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual — the bible of psychiatry. The DSM , published by the American...

In 1974, Phillip Kunz and his family got a record number of Christmas cards. In the weeks before Christmas they came daily, sometimes by the dozen. Kunz still has them in his home, collected in an old photo album. "Dear Phil, Joyce and family," a typical card reads, "we received your holiday greeting with much joy and enthusiasm ... Merry Christmas and Happy New Year's. Love Lou, Bev and the children." The cards from that year came in all shapes and sizes, but the basic message was the same....

In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class. "The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper," Stigler explains, "and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, 'Why don't you go put yours on the board?' So right there I...

The barrier islands off the coast of New Jersey were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, and for the moment, most residents are banned from living in their homes because the area is far too damaged. Which is why this past weekend, in a Red Cross shelter at Pinelands High School in Egg Harbor, N.J., on the mainland, around 100 stranded island residents were lining up for dinner, while Red Cross volunteers worked hard to keep things reassuring. "Excuse me everybody!" shouted one of the volunteers,...

As part of NPR's coverage of this year's presidential election, All Things Considered asked three science reporters to weigh in on the race. The result is a three-part series on the science of leadership. In Part 2, Jon Hamilton examined leadership in the animal kingdom . Charming or cold. Flexible or rigid. Paranoid or impulsive or calculating. How important is the personality of a president? That is, how much of a difference does it actually make to what happens once a person is in office?...

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