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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.




The Crowd

When a group of people come together, they form a crowd. Strangers connect and share a common purpose and identity. It's an exhilarating experience. At football matches, music festivals and protest marches, people become energised in groups. They can be frightening places when they erupt in violence, or peaceful forms of protest when we try to change social norms. In this edition of the Why Factor, Sandra Kanthal asks why we take courage from a crowd. (Image: Large crowd of people, Credit:...

Duration: 00:23:09


Coming of age rituals, hazing at universities or entrance rites into secretive organisations, initiations are present in every culture around the world. They are often secretive and can involve horrific ordeals and yet people are still prepared to put up with the pain. So why do we need them and what happens if they are absent? Rhianna Dhillon talks to young men in South Africa who’s coming of age circumcisions went horribly wrong, learns about the inner workings of gang initiations and...

Duration: 00:24:43

What Can Chimps Teach us About Politics?

Professor James Tilley finds out what we can learn about politics from the power struggles within chimpanzee groups and how our evolutionary past affects the political decisions that we make today. Interviewing primatologists, evolutionary psychologists and political scientists, he explores the parallels between our political world and that of other primates. These include the way politicians form coalitions, how people choose leaders, loyalties to parties and even how, and when, we go to...

Duration: 00:23:06

Men, women and language

Beliefs about language and gender are everywhere; we’re told that women apologise more, men interrupt more, women talk more, that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. But are any of these things true? Why do so many people believe them? Catherine Carr speaks to leading linguists Deborah Cameron and Janet Holmes, who have studied thousands of conversations and gathered data to discover the truth. She also interviews one of the most senior women in technology, Nicola Mendelsohn from...

Duration: 00:23:25

Dubbing Movies

Rhianna Dhillon finds out why so many films are dubbed into another language. She discovers the artistic, social and political reasons why countries like Italy, France and Spanish speaking countries have opted to dub rather than subtitle movies. Why it’s still a controversial issue in the Indian film industry. And she takes advice from Dietmar Wunder, the actor who voices James Bond in German, as she tries her hand at the art herself. (Photo: Actress dubbing documentary. Credit: Getty Images)

Duration: 00:23:06

Dark Tourism

Millions of people every year visit sites of death, tragedy and destruction, from nuclear disaster zones to genocide memorials. Why do we go? Is it an effort to understand the darker parts of our history, or are we just indulging our morbid curiosity? Mary-Ann Ochota becomes a dark tourist herself to try and find out, visiting the former Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. She also goes to Grenfell Tower in west London, the scene of a deadly fire that...

Duration: 00:23:25

Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever felt like a fraud? You think that one day your mask will be uncovered and everyone will know your secret. According to psychologists, this is a common feeling that many of us suffer from and it has a name; Imposter Syndrome. The term was coined by two American psychologists, Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes, in 1978. Dr Clance and Dr Imes first thought the feeling was only experienced by high achieving women, but quickly found that men experienced it too. According to...

Duration: 00:23:41

Serial Killers

Serial killers and their terrible high profile crimes have spawned a massive global industry... feature films, documentaries, TV series, books, magazine profiles, hit podcasts and video games. But why do many of us find serial killers so intriguing? Is it their psychology or the gory details of their murders? Becky Milligan explores the dark world of the serial killer and asks if any of us could be one. (Image: Dark city alley, Credit: Shutterstock)

Duration: 00:23:17


Inhaling and exhaling – we all do it. No breath means death. So why restrict it? And how does holding our breath affect our bodies and minds? Some argue holding your breath is a good way to manage stress. But what happens when small children do it unconsciously? Lucy Ash goes in search of her inner dolphin, as she finds out why people hold their breath. (Image: Athlete breath holding underwater, Credit: Shutterstock)

Duration: 00:23:16

Staying Put

When Hurricanes’ Harvey and Irma made landfall in America, hitting Houston and Florida respectively, people who lived in the predicted paths of these devastating storms faced an agonising choice – should they leave their homes or stay put. The Authorities and news media were warning people about the dangers of the storms, yet despite that some people decided to stay. Shivaani Kohok asks why, when natural disaster is imminent, do some people decide not to leave? The reliability of warnings...

Duration: 00:23:22

How to Live Small

Why is living space important and can we learn to live with less of it? Why are the Japanese so good at living small and is sharing space more important than having space to ourselves? To find out why, Catherine Carr meets the principal investigator on the HI-SEAS project; a specialist in Japanese compact homes; a housing expert; the owner of a Tiny House; a man who grew up in slum; an environmental psychologist and an anthropologist. (Photo: Inside a dolls house. Credit: Shutterstock)

Duration: 00:23:28


Why would any woman choose to carry a baby for a total stranger? Modern medicine has enabled the childless to have a baby that’s blood-related, by using another woman to carry the pregnancy to term. But what does it feel like to hand over a child that’s been growing in your womb? And should money be involved? Some people condemn surrogacy as a dangerous industry that exploits the vulnerable. Others see it as a welcome solution to the heartache of infertility. Mary-Ann Ochota explores the...

Duration: 00:24:22


Red roses, romantic dinners and Valentine’s Day might have become the modern expression of Romance – but where do its ancient roots lie? And do traditional ideas about Romance conflict with today’s experience of gender, love and sexuality? Afua Hirsch talks to Eddie and Justin Outlaw about their experience of Romance as a gay couple in America’s deep south. We also hear from Kiru Taye, a Nigerian author who wanted to challenge the predominately white and western world of Romance novels;...

Duration: 00:23:31

What Do You Do?

When we meet someone and ask them what do you do – what are we really hoping to find out about that person? David Baker explores why we ask ‘what do you do?’ and finds out what happens when you decide you won’t start a relationship with a question about work. Why do we believe that our jobs are the most profound thing about us when there are so many other things we could be talking about? What might seem like a simple social convention – a way of breaking the ice – can also reveal a great...

Duration: 00:23:05


Technology has the potential to change all our lives for the better, yet many of us are often reduced to hitting screens in frustration. So why does technology feel so complicated? In this edition of the Why Factor, Kate Lamble explores why we get so exasperated with new technology and whether we should be concerned about increasingly complex solutions to simple problems. Is poor design to blame? Stupidity on the users part? Or is it part of our natural psychological response to artificial...

Duration: 00:23:24

Human Remains in Museums

Many museums around the world hold human bodies and body parts. Egyptian mummies draw huge crowds curious about our ancient past and specimens in medical museums allow us to imagine our own bodies from the inside. Many of these museum objects have become highly contested. Whilst some people may look at them and see artefacts or tools for knowledge, for others, human remains remain human. Shivaani Kohok explores why storing and displaying human remains in museums is so contentious. Many...

Duration: 00:23:14


News has a powerful pull. We spend so much of our time checking it, absorbing it and talking about it. And some of us even claim to be addicted to it. But why do we need news in the first place? So much of what goes on in the world is beyond our control and hearing about it can just make us more depressed. Would we be better off just disconnecting from the news? Or is it part of our civic duty to be informed? And is news really just another form of entertainment – a modern-day version of...

Duration: 00:24:25


On trains, in cafes, offices and in the street, we cannot help overhearing conversations not intended for our ears. Catherine Carr explores why we eavesdrop, and whether it is a harmless habit or a dangerous invasion of privacy. The poet Imtiaz Dharker takes ‘furtive pleasure’ in ‘lying in wait for secrets that people don’t even know they’re telling’ and sometimes what she hears ends up in her poems. Canadian journalist, Jackie Hong, eavesdropped on the radio communications of police and...

Duration: 00:23:15

Why Raise Other People's Children?

Raising children is demanding. It takes time, money and devotion. So, why would anyone want to raise another person’s child? In this edition of the Why Factor, Mary-Ann Ochota, explores what it means to be a parent. Can mothers who adopt or foster have the same connection to their children as a birth mother would? And, what does it say about human society that we choose to take in the offspring of others? (Photo: Family, Credit: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

Duration: 00:23:27

Sign Language

Every country in the world has at least one Sign Language. Each is a complete communication system with its own grammar, lexicon and structure and has evolved over centuries, just like their verbal counterparts. Although many have legal status under disability legislation, only four have been given the status of a recognised official language. But not everyone who is deaf uses sign language, and not everyone who uses sign language is deaf. There is a debate in deaf communities as to...

Duration: 00:23:36

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