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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.





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

Why Do Some People Crave the Limelight?

We sweat; we feel sick and even shake when we’re faced with the limelight. Our bodies release stress hormones and begin fight or flight response. So why then do some people crave the limelight so badly? Presenter Jordan Dunbar undergoes an experiment to find out what the limelight does to our bodies, to get a chemical answer. We speak with an historian of Fame, Leo Braudy, to hear how Alexander The Great started it all and how he used the Ancient Greek version of twitter to let everyone...

Duration: 00:23:01


With increasing numbers of Westerners opting to have smaller families, some go one step further and decide to have no children at all. As a result they often face suspicion, abuse even, for being selfish or materialistic. Women, in particular, who decide to go childless, experience the full force of this near-universal stigma. Mary-Ann Ochota speaks to people who’ve made this often lonely decision. Presenter: Mary-Ann Ochota Producer: Rose de Larrabeiti (Photo: Empty old swings, Credit:...

Duration: 00:23:03

The Kiss

Why Do humans Kiss? You might think it is a universal trait, something that we all do. But when European explorers travelled the world, they met tribes that didn’t kiss. So is it a learnt response after all? It can be as a greeting, or a sign of reverence or supplication- but we will be talking about the romantic kiss- face to face, lips to lips. We examine the biochemistry, psychology, anthropology and history of kissing. Where does it come from? (Image of two women kissing at a festival,...

Duration: 00:23:06


When many people struggle to maintain one relationship, why do some people enter into multiple simultaneous marriages? Lucy Ash speaks to polygamists around the world to find out why they were drawn to these complex arrangements and how they manage them. Lucy hears about rotas, hierarchies and curfews from the stars of a popular South African reality TV show about a businessman, his four wives and their ten children. The creator of a dating website in Gaza explains why many of his clients...

Duration: 00:23:32

Returning Home

Why do foreign migrants yearn to go home and what happens when they do? Some have had no choice, but others are influenced by nostalgia for their early lives. Or sometimes by disillusionment with their adopted country. When they go back, can the old country live up to their hopes and dreams? Shivaani hears emotional tales from those returning to Jamaica, Sierra Leone, India and Ghana. (Image: Empire Windrush, Credit: Getty Images)

Duration: 00:23:21


All over the world this summer young people are sitting exams which will have a big impact on their future. In some places, a single exam might determine whether and where candidates go on to university, their future earning potential, and even their marriage prospects. Given the stakes, it is easy to see why so many cultures place great importance on exam success. However, is this one-size-fits-all approach to assessment really a good judge of ability and understanding? Or do exam results...

Duration: 00:23:36


We all experience negative emotions and find different ways to cope – maybe by exercising or by listening to music. But some people deliberately inflict pain on themselves as a way of managing how they feel. Why? Experts believe 15% of adolescents self-injure at least once, with some children as young as 9 using self-injury as a coping mechanism, albeit an unhealthy one. The behaviour can lead to feelings of guilt and distress; family and friends often don’t know how to help. Catherine...

Duration: 00:23:34

Are you a numbers person?

Some people are numbers people – and some are not. One meltdown moment in the classroom is often all it takes to put people off maths for life. But, when you lose the ability to interrogate numbers, it makes it easier to be fooled by fancy figures. In this edition of The Why Factor, Timandra Harkness asks why people are intimidated by numbers. (Image: Frightened looking man surrounded by numbers. Credit: Wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

Duration: 00:23:37

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