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The Why Factor


Why do we do the things we do? Mike Williams searches for the extraordinary and hidden histories behind everyday objects and actions to inform us about the way we live in the 21st century. Broadcast and podcast every Friday from September 2012.

Why do we do the things we do? Mike Williams searches for the extraordinary and hidden histories behind everyday objects and actions to inform us about the way we live in the 21st century. Broadcast and podcast every Friday from September 2012.
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Why do we do the things we do? Mike Williams searches for the extraordinary and hidden histories behind everyday objects and actions to inform us about the way we live in the 21st century. Broadcast and podcast every Friday from September 2012.





Every day we’re bombarded with information and, with each new story or alternative fact, we have to decide what we believe to be true. But some of the mental short cuts we take to sift through this material allow us to be deceived: past experiences, political beliefs and laziness can all cloud our judgment. In this episode of The Why Factor, Sandra Kanthal explores why truth can be elusive. We’ll meet a woman who discovered her husband had been lying to her for 15 years, and fought through...


Plane, Train and Bird Spotting

Why do people love plane, train and bird spotting? Novice aviation geek Alys Harte enters the worlds of twitchers, birders, watchers and spotters. She meets Noel Marsh-Giddings, who has flown on the shortest and longest flights on the planet - just for the sake of flying; she goes ‘birding’ on the east coast of England with Ashley Saunders where they have a close encounter with a sparrow hawk (and a photobombing mallard!) and speaks to Prof. Kiyohito Utsunomiya, transport economist and...


Fact Checkers

Fake News - sometimes it’s obvious to spot, other times it requires more thoughtful investigation. That’s a fact checker’s job; dedicated researchers trying to flesh out what is true and what is not in the deluge of information we see every day. In 2015 the International Fact Checking Network was established to give strength to this small but dedicated group. It now has 62 verified signatories. In this episode of the Why Factor on the BBC World Service, Sandra Kanthal speaks with fact...


Why Scarcity Can Damage Decision Making

Ayeisha Thomas-Smith discovers how when we suffer a scarcity of mental resources, we fail to plan for our futures. That means, according to Princeton psychology professor Eldar Shafir, that millions of people on low incomes where money is scarce are finding it much harder than others to improve their lives. Not because they are untalented or do not want to, but because their brain circuitry is overloaded. And the professor believes even people who are not short of money but are trying to...


Why Have Women Taken To Wellness?

Women are increasingly seeking out ways to look after their minds, bodies and emotions. Nutrition and lifestyle changes - from meditating to drinking green smoothies full of so-called super foods - all come under the term wellness. There are wellness celebrities and online communities, observers even refer to a wellness industry. Nastaran Tavakoli-Far asks what is driving women away from the medical establishment in an effort to improve their health. Photo: Yoga Exercise At Wetland In...


Why Do We Keep Open Secrets?

Open Secrets - when everybody knows something is going on but it is never officially acknowledged. Things are left unsaid, remaining in this strange unacknowledged state for decades. So why do some open secrets not come out sooner? Nastaran Tavakoli-Far looks at the Catholic church, the trading floor and to the wrestling ring to find out why very different open secrets have continued for so long and why they eventually came out. Presenter: Nastaran Tavakoli-Far Producer: Clare Spencer Photo:...



Rhetoric has been described as the art of persuasion. Used to its best effect, it can make what you say very convincing. In the age of non-stop tweets, news updates and digital distractions, discourse feels like it’s become more immediate, less considered and, often, more aggressive. What should be reasoned rhetoric now often deteriorates into the quest for the perfect putdown. In this week's Why Factor, Sandra Kanthal finds out why, in the age of the 280 character polemic, it could be...


Compassion Fatigue

We hear about disasters and bad things happening in the world around the clock. Thanks to our TVs and smartphones we are bombarded 24/7. And charities use those same platforms to appeal to us for donations almost as frequently. Those whose job it is to care – doctors, nurses, mothers even – face even more relentless demands on their compassion. Until one day some feel they cannot go on anymore. We are all vulnerable to compassion fatigue – whether we are unable to deal with more bad news, or...


Why has Feminism Affected the Mother-son Bond?

You’re a feminist. You’re pregnant. It’s a boy. What next? Feminist mothers share with Nastaran Tavakoli-Far the complexities of bringing up a son. One mother feels she has failed to impart her feminist values to her 17-year-old son who insists on listening to songs with misogynistic lyrics. Another mother confesses that she is conflicted - on the one hand she thinks men have had their turn at the top of society and now they should keep quiet. On the other hand, she wants her 15-year-old son...


Why the Father-Son Relationship is Important

Fathers can influence their sons long after the two have stopped living together. The father can act as the role model or, conversely, a cautionary tale. In this edition of the Why Factor, Nastaran Tavakoli-Far talks with fathers and sons about how the relationship has affected them profoundly. Image: Honduran Father and Son. Credit: Getty Images


Why do we forget the things we’ve learned?

Have you ever been captivated by a book, full of stories you never knew, revelled in that new knowledge …and then forgotten it all? If the answer is yes, take heart; you are not alone. Why is it we remember some facts easily, and others slip away? In this week’s Why Factor Sandra Kanthal asks why do we forget the things we’ve learned. Image: Brain Concept. Credit: BSIP / UIG via Getty Images


Why Do We Feel Heartbreak?

Heartbreak after love lost has been written about for generations. Who can forget the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet? Or how Rose lost Jack in Titanic? Some of our favourite songs were inspired by heartbreak and as most of us have felt heartbreak in one form or another, relating to their words comes easy. But what causes these feelings? Is it all a figment of our imagination prompted by our society and culture or is there more to it than that? Can we fall sick or even die from a...



Why would you go to the coldest place on Earth? A place mostly devoid of life, where there are rarely more than a few thousand other humans spread out across a landmass twice the size of Australia. A place whose sublime beauty is matched by its capacity to kill you, very fast. We are talking about Antarctica. A continent which belongs to no nation has no government and is run according to an international treaty signed nearly 60 years ago. Shabnam Grewal went there many years ago and knows...


Why Boredom Is Interesting

Boredom is a powerful emotion, one which many of us will go to lengths to avoid. Psychologists describe its purpose as trying to get us to do something else. Boredom can spur us on to do something more meaningful or tempt us into dangerous behaviours. In this edition of thy Why Factor, Sandra Kanthal talks with researchers who think boredom is anything but boring. Image: A bored woman behind a rainy window in a tram, (c) Getty Images.


Being at Sea

Lesley Curwen has sailed thousands of miles around Europe on her yacht and knows the strange joy of being out of sight of land. Talking to fellow sea-lovers - sailors, a marine biologist, an artist and a Captain of a merchant ship - she asks why we are drawn to go to sea and put ourselves at the mercy of wind and waves. Is it a yearning to be close to nature, a test of self-reliance or can science explain why our brains are attracted to the ocean? Photo: The sea. Copyright Shutterstock


Why Do We Love Boats?

Why do so many of us love boats? They are used as homes as well as for work and pleasure across the world. Lesley Curwen, a proud owner of a yacht, finds out how our love affair with the boat can be a deep, passionate attachment and how some vessels can take on the character of their owners. In some cultures boats are seen as living things and the best place to create family memories far from the busy, connected world of dry land. (Photo: A boat on the sea)


Female Friendships

Just like in the TV show Sex and the City, female friendships tend to be uniquely close – women talk often and share a lot. But this level of intimacy can make the relationships susceptible to serious and even terminal breakdown. As friendships increasingly take place through social media, Nastaran Tavakoli-Far looks at why new technology can be a mixed blessing for female friendship by exaggerating existing vulnerabilities yet enabling increased connectedness. She also learns why it’s a...


Male Friendships

From the Obama – Biden bromance to the transformative experience of the men’s group, in this programme presenter Nastaran Tavakoli-Far explores what men can get from their friendships with other men that is unique. With theories from Aristotle to the modern day, she looks at how long held notions of masculinity sit within redefined gender roles and can prevent men from getting close to other men. And also learns about the importance of music in making friends and why being able to show our...


School Reunions

Why do people go to their school reunion? Caz Graham goes to a 50th anniversary school reunion in the North of England where she meets people who are encountering friends who have not seen each other for years. She hears how the event prompts their memories of school days from the 1960s and also what they have done in the years since leaving school. Caz explores the strength of feelings that school day memories produce and finds out from experts why these enduring memories draw people back...


Us and Them

Dividing people into groups is part of our social experience. Be it through race, gender, nationality; we build our identities through groups we belong to. And these identities can be numerous and elastic. But, what makes us decide who is like us and who is the other? In this week’s Why Factor, Sandra Kanthal asks; why do we divide the world into us and them? (Image: Baseball caps, Credit: Sandra Kanthal/BBC)