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.


4:49 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 9:44 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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Superstorm Sandy: Before, During And Beyond
4:51 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 8:37 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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5:46 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 9:59 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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3:33 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 10:14 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
3:36 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.

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 9:52 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
3:05 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 3:48 pm

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

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Shots - Health Blog
4:02 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.

Originally published on Mon September 3, 2012 7:06 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
2:58 am
Fri August 17, 2012

Would Judge Give Psychopath With Genetic Defect Lighter Sentence?

Originally published on Fri August 17, 2012 11:06 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
4:59 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 8:45 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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3:20 pm
Tue May 1, 2012

Psychology Of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things

Adam Cole/NPR

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 10:44 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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Shots - Health Blog
3:35 am
Mon April 30, 2012

To Predict Dating Success, The Secret's In The Pronouns

People who are interested in and paying close attention to each other begin to speak more alike, a psychologist says.

Originally published on Sun May 6, 2012 11:17 pm

On a recent 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.

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Children's Health
4:00 am
Tue February 21, 2012

More Children Struggle With Gender Identity Disorder

Originally published on Tue February 21, 2012 7:04 am



The March issue of the medical journal, Pediatrics, features a striking editorial. It begins with the following sentence: A new pediatric problem is in town. That new problem, according to the editorial, is gender identity disorder in children. Pediatricians are apparently seeing more young patients who express an interest in changing their gender. NPR's Alix Spiegel reports.

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Shots - Health Blog
3:16 pm
Tue February 7, 2012

A Fresh Look At Antidepressants Finds Low Risk Of Youth Suicide

Originally published on Tue February 7, 2012 5:35 pm

In 2004, after an extensive review, the Food and Drug Administration issued a strong warning to doctors who prescribed antidepressants to teens and children.

Antidepressants, the FDA said, appeared to increase suicide among kids and teens. Doctors needed to be careful. The FDA even mandated that a "black-box warning," the strongest type, be placed on antidepressant packaging.

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Shots - Health Blog
12:01 am
Mon January 23, 2012

When It Comes To Depression, Serotonin Isn't The Whole Story

The antidepressant Prozac selectively targets the chemical serotonin.
Paul S. Howell Getty Images

Originally published on Fri February 3, 2012 1:13 pm

When I was 17 years old, I got so depressed that what felt like an enormous black hole appeared in my chest. Everywhere I went, the black hole went, too.

So to address the black-hole issue, my parents took me to a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She did an evaluation and then told me this story:

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Shots - Health Blog
12:01 am
Mon January 2, 2012

What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits

U.S. soldiers at Long Binh base, northeast of Saigon, line up to give urine samples at a heroin detection center in June 1971, before departing for the U.S.

Originally published on Thu January 5, 2012 3:49 pm

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 &Ms 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 — to a story about heroin use in Vietnam.

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3:50 pm
Fri December 23, 2011

Taj Hotel Staff Were Mumbai's Unlikely Heroes

Indian firefighters attempt to put out a fire as smoke billows out of the historic Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, which was stormed by armed gunmen in November 2008.
Indranil Mukherjee AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri December 23, 2011 10:18 pm

On Nov. 26, 2008, terrorists simultaneously attacked about a dozen locations in Mumbai, India, including one of the most iconic buildings in the city, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

For two nights and three days, the Taj was under siege, held by men with automatic weapons who took some people hostage, killed others and set fire to the famous dome of the hotel.

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1:21 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

For Creative People, Cheating Comes More Easily

New research suggests that people who are more creative are more likely to cheat.

Originally published on Mon December 5, 2011 7:22 pm

Five months after the implosion of Enron, Feb. 12, 2002, the company's chief executive, Ken Lay, finally stood in front of Congress and the world, and placed his hand on a Bible.

At that point everyone had questions for Lay. It was clear by then that Enron was the product of a spectacular ethical failure, that there had been massive cheating and lying. The real question was: How many people had been dishonest? Who was in on it?

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Research News
3:00 pm
Fri November 25, 2011

Why We Give, Not Why You Think

Originally published on Fri November 25, 2011 5:16 pm



This time of year, pleas for donations are as plentiful as eggnog and door-buster sales. Americans give around $300 billion a year to charity. And as NPR's Alix Spiegel reports, psychologists have started to look more closely at when and why we're motivated to give.

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