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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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United Kingdom




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 some sleep disorders turn normal dreams into terrifying nightmares? And what do they tell us about the workings of the brain? Dreaming usually occurs in REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep) when our brains are very active, but our bodies are almost completely paralysed. But sometimes, the switch that paralyses our muscles is faulty, causing conditions that can significantly impact our days and nights. Neurologist, Dr Guy Leschziner, from Guy's and St Thomas' hospitals in London,...

Duration: 00:23:38


Why high levels of noise affects all of us. David Baker explores how different sounds can impact on people without them even knowing and how to make our lives more tranquil. From the clangs and clatter of city life to weapons that use sound to harm us, noise can be a lot more dangerous than we think. But help is at hand from quieter underground stations to restaurants where the sound changes to reflect our moods and preferences. (Image: Crowded, noisy, station; Credit: Shutterstock)

Duration: 00:23:26

Why do people hear voices in their heads?

Meet Rachel Waddingham and meet the voices that inhabit Rachel’s head: there’s three year old Blue who just wants to play with other children, 11 year old Elfie who’s easily offended and a panel of three critical scientists. Peter hears a voice that dictated an entire children’s book to him. Around 2% of people claim, like Rachel, to be inhabited by voices with whom they have full blown relationships. Are they all sick? What causes people to hear voices? And why have some psychologists...

Duration: 00:24:30


Why do some of us do bizarre things in our sleep? Like riding a motorbike, using a shoe to ‘phone for pizza or even having sex while sleeping? These are complex behaviours and yet sleepwalkers aren’t aware of what they’re doing and often have no memory of their strange night-time activities. These sleep disorders are known as non-REM parasomnias and include conditions like night terrors and sleep eating. Neurologist, Dr Guy Leschziner, talks to patients he’s been treating at his sleep...

Duration: 00:23:47

Alcohol Addiction

Catherine Carr asks why excessive drinking can sometimes seem to be socially acceptable. And why countries like America and India have at times turned against alcohol. She hears stories of addiction in India and Kenya and a history of temperance and prohibition movements in America. Medical specialists explain why people can become alcoholics, why some people are drinking more and the treatments available. How Alcoholics Anonymous began and how a new synthetic alcohol may provide a...

Duration: 00:18:25


Why have so many women in so many different cultures and eras been denounced as witches? BBC Africa’s Sammy Awami visits a village in his home country of Tanzania where, just four months ago, five women were murdered after being accused of witchcraft. Sammy meets a witch doctor who believes he has met a witch and talks to a local politician who is trying to stop the killings. We also hear from Professor Dianne Purkiss, an expert on the European witch hunts of the Early Modern period. And...

Duration: 00:23:35

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

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