Tara Boyle

Many people tend to push frightening realities out of mind rather than face them head-on. That's especially true when it comes to the terrifying event that no one can escape — death. Psychologist Sheldon Solomon says people may suppress conscious thoughts about their mortality, but unconscious ones still seep through.

Why do you work? Popular wisdom says your answer depends on what your job is.

But psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski at Yale University finds it may have more to do with how we think about our work.

"Fake news" is a phrase that may seem specific to our particular moment and time in American history.

But Columbia University Professor Andie Tucher says fake news is deeply rooted in American journalism.

In 1690, British officials forced the first newspaper in North America to shut down after it fabricated information. Nineteenth-century newspapers often didn't agree on basic facts. In covering a lurid murder in 1836, two major papers in New York City offered wildly differing perspectives on the case.

We just can't let go of some decisions. We replay them in our head and imagine alternate endings.

These sorts of looping mental videos are called counterfactuals. Northwestern University Professor Neal Roese says there's real value to wondering "if only."

"Counterfactual thoughts are generally useful for us in terms of providing a set of options that we might act upon in the future," he says. "This can lead to improvement. It can lead to learning from experience."

Throughout history, people have sought to create utopias. Perfect societies free of defects.

Of course, not everyone shares the same vision for a utopia. Different people have different priorities. But the wishes of those with power and prestige almost always take precedence.

On this episode of the Hidden Brain radio show, we tell the story of overzealous American scientists who believed creating a utopia for some would eventually lead to utopia for all. This is a story of people who believed they were doing the enlightened thing, even if it traumatized others.

Here's how it usually goes: You're working from home and you dial in to a conference call for the morning meeting. Everyone is cheerfully talking around the table. You can't believe what a good time everyone seems to be having, talking about nothing.

Then someone starts to laugh. And then everyone's laughing. Except for you, silently listening on the phone. You're not even cracking a smile, forget about laughing. You wonder, when did this conversation become so hilarious? What am I missing?

Many people start exploring their sexuality in college. The lessons they learn about intimacy and attraction during these years lay a foundation for the rest of their lives.

"I have students who have had sex many times drunk but have never held someone's hand," says Occidental University sociologist Lisa Wade.

After you read this sentence, pause for a moment to think back on advertisements you first heard when you were a child.

Perhaps you recall a favorite jingle or the catchphrase of a cereal mascot. You probably can remember more than just one.

This week, we look at the shelf life of commercials. According to University of Arizona researcher Merrie Brucks, an ad we watched when we were five years old can influence our buying behavior when we're 50.

There is great comfort in the familiar. It's one reason humans often flock to people who share the same interests, laugh at the same jokes, hold the same political views. But familiar ground may not be the best place to cultivate creativity.

Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky has found that people who have deep relationships with someone from another country become more creative and score higher on routine creativity tests.

Annie Duke was about to win $2 million.

It was 2004, and she was at the final hand of the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions. Annie had beaten some of the best poker players in the world — all men — to get to this point.

But she wasn't sure she deserved to be there.

"I'm sort of thinking, if I fold and I'm wrong, everybody's going to be like, 'See, she plays like a girl, look how he pushed her around,' " said Annie.

Paul Rozin has been studying the psychology and culture of food for more than 40 years. And he's come to appreciate that food fills many of our needs, but hunger is just one.

"Food is not just nutrition that goes in your mouth or even pleasant sensations that go with it," he says. "It connects to your whole life, and it's really a very important part of performing your culture and experiencing your culture."

The nastiness of American politics today may seem extreme compared to the tone of earlier eras. But historian David Moss says our nation's founders were also happy to sling mud.

Have you ever noticed that when something important is missing in your life, your brain can only seem to focus on that missing thing?

When Johnny Fox was a boy, all his friends were obsessed with superheroes.

"Friends of mine were reading comics about Superman and Batman and I thought, 'You know, this is cartoons and made-up stories,' " he says. "I want a real superhero. There's got to be real superheroes out there."

When he was 8 or 9, his parents took him to the Eastern States Exposition near Springfield, Mass. That's where he found those real superheroes.