Science of Us’s Favorite Psychology Podcasts This Week

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Hey, it’s Friday! Have any exciting plans for the weekend? No? How ‘bout some podcasts? Oh, jam-packed schedule from now till Sunday night? We recommend unwinding in between all that socializing with a podcast or two. Either way, here’s a selection of the best psychology-related episodes from around the internet this week.

Surprisingly Awesome, “Crying

Why do some people well up at every sad song or hokey commercial that comes their way, while others remain dry-eyed at even the saddest situations? Host Rachel Ward is joined by writer Tim Manley, who’s on a mission to figure out why he just can’t seem to cry. The two learn about what causes crying, pick up some teary fun facts (did you know that people cry more often in colder climates than in warm ones?) and investigate why the inability to cry feels so significant. “As long as you can deal with your emotions in some way, it doesn’t matter if an acqueous substance comes out of your eye holes,” Ward concludes — but to a lot of people, it does.

HBR IdeaCast, “Making the Toughest Calls

Harvard Business School professor Joseph Badaracco explains how to make decisions in the face of uncertainty — what to do when, as he put it, “a lot of basic facts are just missing and you don’t know how to get ahold of them.” Unlike in most decision-making situations, he explains, the goal isn’t to find the answer; it’s to create one from scratch, a task that requires a tricky balance of rationality, empathy, and gut instinct.

Hidden Brain, “The Perils of Power

“We don’t normally associate power with qualities like compassion and kindness,” says host Shankar Vedantem, and yet research shows that people with those qualities often rise to power more quickly than the scheming, aggressive bullies. Vedantem interviews Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, about why power comes more easily to the nicer, gentler ones among us — and about what happens to them when they get it. Spoiler: It corrupts. Empathy dries up, kindness evaporates; feeling powerful, Keltner explains, is even enough to make you worse at reading facial expressions. And with only a couple months until the election, Vendantem says, “We think [Keltner’s] ideas are especially relevant right now.”

Happier With Gretchen Rubin, “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

The eponymous host outlines a handy strategy for transitioning from small talk to meaningful conversation: When you’re talking to someone and sense that things are stalling, try introducing a specific topic. Rubin’s example: When she was writing her book about habits, she would often ask people to share a habit they’re especially proud of, or one they’re trying to break. “And we have a meaningful exchange, and it’s so much more fun than just, ‘Oh, do you have any interesting travel plans coming up?’” A caveat: It can be an awkward thing to pull off, she warns, but if you get it right, the payoff is saving yourself from an overload of mind-numbing chitchat.

Improbable Research, “The Best Life: Act 1

No way around it: This one’s weird, which maybe shouldn’t be a surprise, considering it’s brought to you by the same team that produces the annual Oscars of oddball science research, the Ig Nobels. This week’s episode is actually a recording of a performance from last year’s ceremony: an opera called The Best Life, in which scientists battle it out over which species — from the millions of living things on Earth — is number one. Okay, it’s not psychology, but it is a delightfully goofy dorkfest. Plus, it’s always fun to see an ordinarily self-serious discipline poke fun at itself.