Alix Spiegel

Alix Spiegel has worked on NPR's Science Desk for ten 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 joins NPR Science Reporter Lulu Miller to co-host Invisibilia, a new 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 will be featured on the NPR News programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. The program will also be 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.

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Shots - Health News
2:33 am
Mon February 11, 2013

Why Even Radiologists Can Miss A Gorilla Hiding In Plain Sight

Notice anything unusual about this lung scan? Harvard researchers found that 83 percent of radiologists didn't notice the gorilla in the top right portion of this image.
Trafton Drew and Jeremy Wolfe

Originally published on Thu February 14, 2013 8:37 am

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.

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Shots - Health News
2:25 am
Mon January 28, 2013

No Mercy For Robots: Experiment Tests How Humans Relate To Machines

Could you say "no" to this face? Christoph Bartneck of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand recently tested whether humans could end the life of a robot as it pleaded for survival.
Christoph Bartneck

Originally published on Tue January 29, 2013 4:15 pm

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.

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Shots - Health News
3:20 pm
Thu December 27, 2012

Shootings Leave Sandy Hook Survivors Rethinking The Odds

People visit a memorial outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 15.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

Originally published on Thu December 27, 2012 10:02 pm

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."

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Shots - Health News
4:11 pm
Fri November 30, 2012

Weekend Vote Will Bring Controversial Changes To Psychiatrists' Bible

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon December 3, 2012 11:18 am

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.

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Shots - Health News
3:49 am
Mon November 26, 2012

Give And Take: How The Rule Of Reciprocation Binds Us

A Hare Krishna distributes food gifts from a chariot during a festival in London in 2011. The religious group began distributing books, flowers and gifts to strangers in the 1970s, drawing on the rule of reciprocation to raise money.
Matthew Lloyd Getty Images

Originally published on Mon November 26, 2012 8:44 am

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."

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Shots - Health News
2:29 am
Mon November 12, 2012

Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning

Chinese schoolchildren during lessons at a classroom in Hefei, east China's Anhui province, in 2010.
STR AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 15, 2012 1:17 pm

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.

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Superstorm Sandy: Before, During And Beyond
3:51 pm
Tue November 6, 2012

Jersey Shore Storm Survivors Face Uncertain Future

Jennifer Ruiz and her 2-year-old daughter, "Moo Moo," at a Red Cross shelter in Little Egg Harbor Township, N.J. Ruiz and her daughter evacuated from their home in Seaside Heights.
Alix Spiegel NPR

Originally published on Tue November 6, 2012 7:37 pm

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, waving her arms above her head. "Is there a Jan and a Manny in the house?"

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Politics
4:46 pm
Tue October 23, 2012

Charming, Cold: Does Presidential Personality Matter?

With the advent of radio and television, presidential charisma became a more important personality characteristic. Above, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who is rated one of the most charismatic presidents; John F. Kennedy; Bill Clinton.
Getty Images

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 8:59 am

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.

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Science
2:33 am
Wed October 3, 2012

How Politicians Get Away With Dodging The Question

In a 2004 debate in St. Louis, President Bush answers a question as his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, listens. Both candidates used a number of "pivots" in their debates.
Ron Edmonds AP

Originally published on Wed October 3, 2012 9:14 am

Brett O'Donnell is a debate consultant who trains Republican candidates. He has worked with George W. Bush and John McCain, and for a short time earlier this year, he helped prep Mitt Romney.

O'Donnell is an expert on "the pivot."

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Shots - Health Blog
2:36 am
Mon September 17, 2012

Teachers' Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform

Teachers interact differently with students expected to succeed. But they can be trained to change those classroom behaviors.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 8:52 am

In my Morning Edition story today, I look at expectations — specifically, how teacher expectations can affect the performance of the children they teach.

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Music News
1:39 pm
Tue September 4, 2012

Why We're Happy Being Sad: Pop's Emotional Evolution

A less complicated time? Petula Clark holds her 1965 gold record for "Downtown," an uptempo song in a major key.
R. McPhedran Getty Images

Originally published on Wed November 6, 2013 2:48 pm

Six years ago, Glenn Schellenberg decided to do an experiment.

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Shots - Health Blog
3:02 am
Mon September 3, 2012

Can We Learn To Forget Our Memories?

Research shows that under certain circumstances, we can train ourselves to forget details about particular memories.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon September 3, 2012 6:06 pm

Around 10 years ago, Malcolm MacLeod got interested in forgetting.

For most people, the tendency to forget is something we spend our time cursing. Where are my keys? What am I looking for in the refrigerator again? What is that woman's name?

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Shots - Health Blog
1:58 am
Fri August 17, 2012

Would Judge Give Psychopath With Genetic Defect Lighter Sentence?

Originally published on Fri August 17, 2012 10:06 am

In 1991, a man named Stephen Mobley robbed a Domino's pizza in Hall County, Ga., and shot the restaurant manager dead.

Crimes like this happen all the time, but this particular case became a national story, in part because Mobley seemed so proud of his crime. After the robbery, he bragged about the killing and had the Domino's logo tattooed on his back.

But there was another reason Mobley's case became famous.

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Shots - Health Blog
4:27 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Small Change In Reading To Preschoolers Can Help Disadvantaged Kids Catch Up

Kimberly Payton, a teacher at the Small Savers Child Development Center, reads to a group of preschoolers in Washington, D.C., in 2010. Researchers say that teachers who make small changes in how they read to 4-year-olds can improve kids' reading skills later on.
Ricky Carioti The Washington Post/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue May 29, 2012 7:45 pm

On a recent Monday morning in Washington, D.C., a group of 3-year-old preschoolers bumbled their way into a circle, more or less, on the rug of their classroom. It was time to read.

The children sat cross-legged as their teacher, Mary-Lynn Goldstein, held high a book, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. There was a short conversation about pigeons, then, for reasons that weren't entirely clear, cows; and then Goldstein began to read. She read as most teachers read, occasionally stopping to ask a question, point out a picture or make a comment about the story.

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Science
2:20 pm
Tue May 1, 2012

Psychology Of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things

Adam Cole/NPR

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 9:44 am

Enron, Worldcom, Bernie Madoff, the subprime mortgage crisis.

Over the past decade or so, news stories about unethical behavior have been a regular feature on TV, a long, discouraging parade of misdeeds marching across our screens. And in the face of these scandals, psychologists and economists have been slowly reworking how they think about the cause of unethical behavior.

In general, when we think about bad behavior, we think about it being tied to character: Bad people do bad things. But that model, researchers say, is profoundly inadequate.

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