The Why Factor-logo

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.
More Information


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.




Men Only

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind closed doors at a men only club? Maybe you have even asked yourself why segregated groups still exist. According to sociologist Todd Migliaccio, society has historically been male dominated making men only clubs suited to the running of it. However, with the current drive towards gender equality and movements such as MeToo and Time’s Up, it begs the question; Why men only? Presented by Afua Hirsch Produced by Priscilla Ng’ethe (Photo: David Staples...



They roamed our planet for millions of years before most of them were wiped out. So what’s our fascination with the dinosaur? And will our love affair with them endure? Not only is this reptile beast loved by children across the world but it also fires our imagination and has become part of our popular culture, as well hooking us into science. Mary–Ann Ochota talks to Professor Paul Barrett, Natural History Museum, London about the history of the dinosaur; Dr Laverne Antrobus on why kids...



Why do bullies do what they do? Shivaani Kohok explores the reasons for bullying behaviour. She talks to two bullies who explain why they do what they do – in one case, a young woman realised how the online comments she had posted about others who had previously bullied her were in fact another form of bullying behaviour. Shivaani talks to experts who provide insight into the different types of bullies including "victims" and "ringleaders". She investigates cyber-bullying, bullying in the...



Job interviews are stressful experiences and have mostly been proved by scientists to be ineffective at selecting the right candidates. So why has this means of selection survived so long and why is so much value placed on it? Catherine Carr explores the cultural and psychological bias that flaws them, how we might improve the experience both as interviewee and interviewer, and the extent to which technology might hold promise in making the process fairer. (Image: Someone at an interview,...


Why We Need To Learn More About Pain

Pain comes to us all at some point in our lives. Sometimes it’s a short, sharp shock. Other times, it seems to cling to us. A person’s pain is a unique experience and describing what hurts is not a simple task. In this edition of the Why Factor on the BBC World Service, Sandra Kanthal asks why we need to understand more about pain and learns more about new ways being developed to manage and measure pain. (Photo: Pain level meter indicating maximum Credit: Shutterstock)



Curing phobias, managing pain, entertainment: hypnotism has a number of tangible benefits. But it can also carry significant risks for the most suggestible people. So why would anyone allow a stranger to access their mind? Nicola Kelly speaks to performers, dentists and therapists who use hypnotism in their work and discovers how the brain functions when in a trance. Through hypnosis, she faces her own fear of rats, hears from a patient who had his front tooth extracted without antistatic...



Why are more and more people giving up all food produced from animals? Mary-Ann Ochota explores if it’s natural for us to eat meat, and the impact on our health and the environment. She looks at how social media is helping spread the vegan message, the pros and cons of a solely plant based diet and whether eating meat today is ethical.



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,...



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)


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...



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...


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...



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...


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:...



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...


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...


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...


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)


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...


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...


See More