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The Why Factor

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The extraordinary and hidden histories behind everyday objects and actions

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News

24:25 | Aug 21st, 2017

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, asks David Baker, do we need news in the first place? So much of what goes on in the world...Show More

The Kiss

23:06 | Jul 3rd, 2017

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 sig...Show More

Why do Men Want Six Packs?

23:23 | Mar 27th, 2017

Why do men crave these six bumps on their stomach? Why are they willing to risk their lives for this look? We take a journey to ancient Greece to discover the origins of the chiselled abdominals, learn from online stars on how hard it is to achieve o...Show More

Mothers and daughters

23:18 | Mar 25th

Is there any truth to claim that the mother daughter relationship is more fraught than any other dynamic? Psychologist Professor Terri Apter explains how conflict can help mothers and daughters renew their bond. Mother and daughter team Sally and Sar...Show More

Fathers and daughters

22:58 | Mar 18th

Fathers are often regarded as secondary parents in many cultures, perhaps even more so when they have girls. We examine why this can be damaging, and the ways in which fathers can have a profound influence on how their daughters navigate the world. ...Show More

Fattism

23:59 | Mar 11th

We are told obesity is on the rise - globally. But if you think about it, how often do you see an obese chief executive, or tech entrepreneur, or politician even? Especially a female one. Perhaps the reason is because society discriminates against fa...Show More

Beauty pageants

24:26 | Mar 4th

Beauty pageants project an image of inspiring glitz and glamour. Often contestants enter these competitions to boost their confidence and take advantage of the platform they provide. But, there are plenty of critics who argue they objectify women, a...Show More

Why is architecture so big on Instagram?

24:20 | Feb 25th

Instagram’s one billion users love architecture. If you search for #architecture, you will get hundreds of millions of results. Some architecture publications have more followers than household names like Cosmpolitan for example. We also seem to love...Show More

Meritocracy

23:36 | Feb 18th

The concept that you can get ahead on your work and talents, also called meritocracy, is something we mostly agree is good. We also equate it with a fairer society, one where the social order is not determined by birth but one which gives us some sor...Show More

Speed

24:27 | Feb 11th

We live in a world where going fast – and faster – is an everyday fact of life. Where fast cars, fast boats and fast athletes command our attention. In theme parks we queue for the most fastest, most exciting rides. But why do we find speed so thri...Show More

Blame

24:31 | Feb 4th

When things go wrong, we crave something or someone to blame. It’s a strategy which puts people on the defensive, and can create a toxic culture. People remember when they have been blamed for something, and will be quicker to deflect blame themselve...Show More

Smart Speakers

23:06 | Jan 28th

The number of smart speakers in US households has increased by 78% year-over-year, from 66 million in December 2017 to 118 million in December 2018. About ten million people in the UK now use one and, on average, one in 10 people in the world now own...Show More

Giving Presents

22:59 | Jan 21st

A present connects, communicates and makes people generally happy. It can strengthen a relationship, but also jeopardise it. Have you ever wondered why a certain present was chosen for you? And how much thought goes into the presents you give? This W...Show More

Fitness Apps

24:11 | Jan 14th

In a world increasingly obsessed with health, the fitness technology market is booming. Whether you’re a serious athlete or just enjoy a casual run or cycle around your local park on a Sunday morning, it seems more and more of us are using fitness de...Show More

Extreme Sports

24:13 | Jan 7th

Whether it’s climbing Everest, hiking through the Amazon jungle or cycling round the world, why are more of us taking on extreme endurance challenges which push our minds and bodies to the limit? Marathons now seem commonplace and a whole new breed ...Show More

Zombies

23:37 | Dec 31st, 2018

We are asking why so many people are fascinated by Zombies. For many people the Zombie is a walking corpse that’s out to bite you, and turn you into a similarly mindless, flesh craving undead person. What’s not to like? And we seem to be going throug...Show More

Musical Instruments

22:58 | Dec 24th, 2018

Why do some instruments get all the tunes and the respect, while others are left at the bottom of the heap? The leader of the orchestra is always a violinist, and the guitarist usually gets to leap around at the front of the band. Meanwhile other in...Show More

Wine

22:58 | Dec 17th, 2018

Wine has been referred to as the nectar of the gods, and has been tempting connoisseurs for centuries. But contained in this simple pleasure is an incredibly complex product; and anyone interested in reaching the pinnacle of the wine world must lear...Show More

Why do we Collude with Corruption?

23:08 | Dec 10th, 2018

It’s a bite in Mexico, a sweetener in Britain, Tea money in Cambodia. Why do we collude with corruption when it’s unfair and costs us billions of dollars? Nastaran Tavakoli-Far examines the moral quandaries we face when asked to pay a bribe. She ta...Show More

Why Do Men Love Sheds?

23:05 | Dec 3rd, 2018

We all need a place to call our own. For a lot of men, that place is the garden shed. Going to the shed is sometimes seen as eccentric or strange behaviour. What is it about the space inside those four wooden walls, among the tools and the junk, that...Show More

Horses

23:05 | Nov 26th, 2018

The horse has been part of human society since earliest times – archaeologists have unearthed evidence from over 5000 years ago in central Asia. Over the centuries, the horse has been celebrated in myths and legend, it has played a role as human soc...Show More

Truth

23:16 | Nov 19th, 2018

Every day we’re bombarded with information and, with each new story or alternative fact, we have to decide what we believe to be true. But some of the mental short cuts we take to sift through this material allow us to be deceived: past experiences...Show More

Fact Checkers

23:14 | Nov 12th, 2018

Fake News - sometimes it’s obvious to spot, other times it requires more thoughtful investigation. That’s a fact checker’s job; dedicated researchers trying to flesh out what is true and what is not in the deluge of information we see every day. In 2...Show More

Why Scarcity Can Damage Decision Making

23:07 | Nov 5th, 2018

Ayeisha Thomas-Smith discovers how when we suffer a scarcity of mental resources, we fail to plan for our futures. That means, according to Princeton psychology professor Eldar Shafir, that millions of people on low incomes where money is scarce are ...Show More

Plane, Train and Bird Spotting

23:04 | Oct 29th, 2018

Why do people love plane, train and bird spotting? Novice aviation geek Alys Harte enters the worlds of twitchers, birders, watchers and spotters. She meets Noel Marsh-Giddings, who has flown on the shortest and longest flights on the planet - jus...Show More

Why Have Women Taken To Wellness?

23:12 | Oct 22nd, 2018

Women are increasingly seeking out ways to look after their minds, bodies and emotions. Nutrition and lifestyle changes - from meditating to drinking green smoothies full of so-called super foods - all come under the term wellness. There are wellnes...Show More

Why Do We Keep Open Secrets?

23:08 | Oct 15th, 2018

Open Secrets - when everybody knows something is going on but it is never officially acknowledged. Things are left unsaid, remaining in this strange unacknowledged state for decades. So why do some open secrets not come out sooner? Nastaran Tavako...Show More

Rhetoric

23:10 | Oct 8th, 2018

Rhetoric has been described as the art of persuasion. Used to its best effect, it can make what you say very convincing. In the age of non-stop tweets, news updates and digital distractions, discourse feels like it’s become more immediate, less consi...Show More

Compassion Fatigue

23:02 | Oct 1st, 2018

We hear about disasters and bad things happening in the world around the clock. Thanks to our TVs and smartphones we are bombarded 24/7. And charities use those same platforms to appeal to us for donations almost as frequently. Those whose job it i...Show More

Why has Feminism Affected the Mother-son Bond?

23:13 | Sep 24th, 2018

You’re a feminist. You’re pregnant. It’s a boy. What next? Feminist mothers share with Nastaran Tavakoli-Far the complexities of bringing up a son. One mother feels she has failed to impart her feminist values to her 17-year-old son who insists on ...Show More

Why the Father-Son Relationship is Important

23:10 | Sep 17th, 2018

Fathers can influence their sons long after the two have stopped living together. The father can act as the role model or, conversely, a cautionary tale. In this edition of the Why Factor, Nastaran Tavakoli-Far talks with fathers and sons about h...Show More

Why do we forget the things we’ve learned?

23:11 | Sep 10th, 2018

Have you ever been captivated by a book, full of stories you never knew, revelled in that new knowledge …and then forgotten it all? If the answer is yes, take heart; you are not alone. Why is it we remember some facts easily, and others slip away? I...Show More

Why Do We Feel Heartbreak?

23:21 | Sep 3rd, 2018

Heartbreak after love lost has been written about for generations. Who can forget the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet? Or how Rose lost Jack in Titanic? Some of our favourite songs were inspired by heartbreak and as most of us have felt heartbr...Show More

Antarctica

23:04 | Aug 27th, 2018

Why would you go to the coldest place on Earth? A place mostly devoid of life, where there are rarely more than a few thousand other humans spread out across a landmass twice the size of Australia. A place whose sublime beauty is matched by its capac...Show More

Why Boredom Is Interesting

23:08 | Aug 20th, 2018

Boredom is a powerful emotion, one which many of us will go to lengths to avoid. Psychologists describe its purpose as trying to get us to do something else. Boredom can spur us on to do something more meaningful or tempt us into dangerous behaviou...Show More

Being at Sea

23:05 | Aug 13th, 2018

Lesley Curwen has sailed thousands of miles around Europe on her yacht and knows the strange joy of being out of sight of land. Talking to fellow sea-lovers - sailors, a marine biologist, an artist and a Captain of a merchant ship - she asks why we ...Show More

Why Do We Love Boats?

23:05 | Aug 6th, 2018

Why do so many of us love boats? They are used as homes as well as for work and pleasure across the world. Lesley Curwen, a proud owner of a yacht, finds out how our love affair with the boat can be a deep, passionate attachment and how some vessels ...Show More

Female Friendships

23:10 | Jul 30th, 2018

Just like in the TV show Sex and the City, female friendships tend to be uniquely close – women talk often and share a lot. But this level of intimacy can make the relationships susceptible to serious and even terminal breakdown. As friendships i...Show More

Male Friendships

23:22 | Jul 24th, 2018

From the Obama – Biden bromance to the transformative experience of the men’s group, in this programme presenter Nastaran Tavakoli-Far explores what men can get from their friendships with other men that is unique. With theories from Aristotle to...Show More

School Reunions

23:04 | Jul 16th, 2018

Why do people go to their school reunion? Caz Graham goes to a 50th anniversary school reunion in the North of England where she meets people who are encountering friends who have not seen each other for years. She hears how the event prompts thei...Show More

Us and Them

23:07 | Jul 9th, 2018

Dividing people into groups is part of our social experience. Be it through race, gender, nationality; we build our identities through groups we belong to. And these identities can be numerous and elastic. But, what makes us decide who is lik...Show More

Status

23:36 | Jul 2nd, 2018

How often do you think about other peoples’ opinion of you? In many parts of the world status is something we can change through education, occupation and wealth but what if you come from a culture where the status you are born with is inescapable...Show More

Fishing

22:59 | Jun 25th, 2018

People have been fishing for thousands of years – it is one of the last hunter gatherer activities. But increasingly it is becoming more difficult, as fish stocks dwindle or regulation limits the number of fishes that can be caught. Caz Graham asks...Show More

Why Football is the World’s Game

23:07 | Jun 18th, 2018

Why has football becomes the world’s favourite team sport? Aasmah Mir asks why “soccer” has developed such a huge following. As the FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia, Aasmah talks to players and fans across the world about the game’s accessibility, ...Show More

Why Do We Love Landscapes?

23:06 | Jun 11th, 2018

What is it about a beautiful landscape that people like so much? Caz Graham explores the appeal of landscapes, starting with a visit to the English Lake District and the site of William Wordsworth’s poem, Daffodils. Caz meet local poet Harriet Fras...Show More

Self-Help

23:20 | Jun 4th, 2018

Why do we believe complete strangers can guide us in improving every aspect of ourselves. Mary-Ann Ochota explores whether the self-help industry really changes peoples’ lives. Mary-Ann visits a self-improvement workshop, talks to the owner of an I...Show More

Dogs

23:17 | May 28th, 2018

Why do we have such a close and complex relationship with dogs? No matter whether you love or hate them, it’s undeniable they’ve built up a special relationship with us that most animals haven’t. On this episode of The Why Factor, we find out why...Show More

Immortality

23:31 | May 21st, 2018

Although we don’t like thinking about it, most of us are resigned to the fact that we won’t escape death in the end. But there are people who have dedicated their entire lives to conquering death. This relatively new movement of so called ‘transhuman...Show More

Self-Marriage

23:29 | May 14th, 2018

Why do people marry themselves – and what even is self-marriage? The Why Factor meets the self-married, who argue if marriage is about committing to an individual - to love and cherish, in sickness and in health - who better to commit to… than y...Show More

Romance Fraud

23:06 | May 7th, 2018

Why do people fall for online romance frauds? With false online profiles, doctored photographs, and convincing background stories, online fraudsters target people who are looking for love and online relationships. Once they have hooked their vict...Show More

Giving Away Data

23:10 | Apr 30th, 2018

Why are we giving away our personal data so cheaply and with so little thought? Aasmah Mir asks if it is too late to secure our information. And if it is, whether we should charge for it. She talks to a law professor who believes everyone now has sen...Show More

Carrying Guns

23:07 | Apr 23rd, 2018

In the USA, those least likely to become victims of gun violence are the most likely to carry guns. So if they are not likely to become victims of crime, what are they really afraid of? We speak to people getting their gun licence to try and untan...Show More

Fantasies

23:29 | Apr 16th, 2018

We all fantasise from time to time – about landing our dream job, finding our perfect partner or moving into our ideal home. But some people go much further, creating new personas and elaborate fantasy worlds that become central to their lives. Nicol...Show More

Restaurants

23:44 | Apr 9th, 2018

Why do so many people decide to open a restaurant? Mary-Ann Ochota speaks to the people who have been through the joys and stresses of serving fine food around the globe, those who are just embarking on the journey, and those who are exploring new...Show More

Sibling Birth Order

23:32 | Apr 2nd, 2018

Shivaani Kohok explores why so many people feel that the order in which we are born shapes our character and destiny. Whether you’re the eldest, the youngest or a middle child can make a difference to how we see ourselves and how we relate to others,...Show More

Machines and Morals

23:20 | Mar 26th, 2018

Machines are merging into our lives in ever more intimate ways. They interact with our children and assist with medical decisions. Cars are learning to drive themselves, data on our likes and dislikes roam through the internet. Algorithms can determ...Show More

Laziness

23:17 | Mar 19th, 2018

Laziness, slothfulness, idleness and apathy are used as criticisms and insults against individuals, groups and sometimes whole countries. But why? The Greeks saw laziness as a virtue and something to be sought after whereas today we look down on bei...Show More

Men Only

18:04 | Mar 15th, 2018

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 c...Show More

Dinosaurs

25:01 | Mar 5th, 2018

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 ...Show More

Bullies

23:22 | Feb 26th, 2018

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 ...Show More

Interviews

23:12 | Feb 19th, 2018

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...Show More

Pain

23:45 | Feb 12th, 2018

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...Show More

Hypnotism

23:38 | Feb 5th, 2018

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 ...Show More

Vegans

23:16 | Jan 29th, 2018

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, ...Show More

Dreaming

23:38 | Jan 22nd, 2018

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 ...Show More

Noise

23:26 | Jan 15th, 2018

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 u...Show More

Why do People Hear Voices in Their Heads?

24:30 | Jan 8th, 2018

Meet Rachel Waddingham and meet the voices that inhabit Rachel’s head: there is three-year-old Blue who just wants to play with other children, 11-year-old Elfie who is easily offended and a panel of three critical scientists. Peter hears a voice tha...Show More

Sleepwalking

23:47 | Jan 1st, 2018

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 memo...Show More

Alcohol Addiction

18:25 | Dec 25th, 2017

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...Show More

Witches

23:35 | Dec 18th, 2017

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...Show More

The Crowd

23:09 | Dec 11th, 2017

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...Show More

Initiations

24:43 | Dec 4th, 2017

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 pu...Show More

What Can Chimps Teach us About Politics?

23:06 | Nov 27th, 2017

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 psychologi...Show More

Men, Women and Language

23:25 | Nov 20th, 2017

Beliefs about language and gender are everywhere; we are 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? C...Show More

Dubbing Movies

23:06 | Nov 13th, 2017

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...Show More

Dark Tourism

23:25 | Nov 6th, 2017

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...Show More

Imposter Syndrome

23:41 | Oct 30th, 2017

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 wa...Show More

Serial Killers

23:17 | Oct 23rd, 2017

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? ...Show More

Breath-holding

23:16 | Oct 16th, 2017

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 u...Show More

Staying Put

23:22 | Oct 9th, 2017

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 Auth...Show More

How to Live Small

23:28 | Oct 2nd, 2017

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 investigat...Show More

Surrogacy

24:22 | Sep 25th, 2017

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 t...Show More

Romance

23:31 | Sep 18th, 2017

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 H...Show More

What Do You Do?

23:05 | Sep 11th, 2017

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 ab...Show More

Complexity

23:25 | Sep 4th, 2017

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...Show More

Human Remains in Museums

23:14 | Aug 28th, 2017

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 be...Show More

Eavesdropping

23:15 | Aug 14th, 2017

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 Dhark...Show More

Why Raise Other People's Children?

23:27 | Aug 7th, 2017

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 ...Show More

Sign Language

23:36 | Jul 31st, 2017

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...Show More

Why Do Some People Crave the Limelight?

23:02 | Jul 24th, 2017

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 experim...Show More

Childlessness

23:03 | Jul 10th, 2017

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 de...Show More

Polygamy

23:32 | Jun 26th, 2017

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 t...Show More

Returning Home

23:21 | Jun 19th, 2017

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...Show More

Exams

23:36 | Jun 12th, 2017

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...Show More

Self-Harm

23:34 | Jun 5th, 2017

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...Show More

Why Do We Talk To Ourselves?

23:29 | May 29th, 2017

We all do it – sometimes. It can be embarrassing or just the way we organise our thoughts, a tool for remembering what is important. Sarah Outen, who spent four and a half years rowing, cycling and kayaking around the planet, says talking to hers...Show More

Thankless Tasks

24:20 | May 22nd, 2017

Why take on a role where lots of people hate you for doing it? Dotun Adebayo talks to people whose daily life can include verbal and even physical abuse. They include an 18 year old referee in Manchester who has been head-butted and spat upon. He hea...Show More

Are you a numbers person?

23:37 | May 15th, 2017

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. ...Show More

Goths

23:18 | May 8th, 2017

Why would anyone be a goth? What is the appeal of this dark and spooky subculture that embraces death, pain and sadness? Goths have been attacked, abused and are often misunderstood, but still choose to stand out – dramatically - from the crowd. ...Show More

Habits

23:09 | May 1st, 2017

How do you start your day? It’s a more complicated question than you think – and that’s because you don’t think about it very much. Quite a lot of what we do, we do every day. We create order by forming habits. From the way we brush our teeth to how...Show More

Short

23:38 | Apr 24th, 2017

Why do some short people lie about their height? How much difference does a few inches make? Felicity Evans is 5 foot (152 cm) tall. That’s 5 inches shorter than the average woman in the UK. In this edition, she examines whether society discrimina...Show More

Why Words Matter

23:27 | Apr 17th, 2017

The average English-speaker knows about 25,000 words. And yet those 25,000 words can be combined into an infinite number of sentences -not a simple process. Many people believe that, whatever language you speak, the words you know have a profound inf...Show More

Underground

23:07 | Apr 10th, 2017

What lures people to delve beneath the earth, peering into the dark recesses that exist underground? Simon Cox hears from the urban explorers trying to find the hidden layers of cities that exist deep beneath our feet and the danger how do we cope wi...Show More

Clapping

23:11 | Apr 3rd, 2017

Why do we clap? Becky Milligan uncovers how the highly contagious nature of applause has been exploited by everyone from Roman emperors to today's politicians . She explores the different styles and rhythms. And how it can make us feel on top of the ...Show More

Yoga

17:39 | Mar 24th, 2017

Yoga is an ancient practice that includes meditation, exercise and spirituality. It’s said to date back thousands of years and originate in the east. But why do millions of us do it every day and how has it become so popular over time? There is c...Show More

Hands

17:52 | Mar 10th, 2017

There is something satisfying about working with our hands. Whether it is making something, fixing something or caring for someone, tactile skills are rewarding and valuable. Maria Margaronis asks what it is about working with our hands that make us ...Show More

Listening

17:30 | Mar 3rd, 2017

Why is listening different from hearing? What is the skill of listening and how can we develop that skill? (Photo: Close up of woman's ear. Credit: Photomediagroup/Shutterstock)

Stammering

17:32 | Feb 24th, 2017

For most of us, speaking fluently comes naturally. But if you have a stutter, getting the words out can be a real struggle. Some sounds are repeated or prolonged or a word gets stuck and doesn’t come out at all. At times it’s impossible even to sa...Show More

Smiling

17:36 | Feb 17th, 2017

It’s probably something we take for granted and do every day - whether a toothy grin, a megawatt beam or just a slight upturn of the corners of the mouth. But have you ever considered why we smile and what effect is has on other people? Scientists ...Show More

Hypochondria

17:36 | Feb 10th, 2017

Hypochondria: the fear of having a serious, undiagnosed illness. We may mock the hypochondriac, but a constant fear of sickness and death can be a debilitating and distressing condition in itself, with some sufferers even ending up in wheelchairs. So...Show More

Torture

17:49 | Feb 3rd, 2017

In his first TV interview as US President, Donald Trump claimed that torture “absolutely” works and said the US should “fight fire with fire.” But what evidence is there that torture is an effective method of obtaining valuable intelligence? And ...Show More

Cryonics

17:46 | Jan 27th, 2017

Can deep-frozen bodies ever return from the dead? Before death you can express a choice about what happens afterwards. Burial perhaps? Cremation? Or something else? Maybe you could ask for your body to be pumped full of anti-freeze, then suspen...Show More

Regret

17:45 | Jan 13th, 2017

Regret – why do we feel this negative emotion? Is it right to live with it, or should we simply get over our mistakes of the past? Mike Williams speaks to a palliative care nurse who recorded the regrets of the dying, and the man with 50,000 regre...Show More

Carrying Guns

17:32 | Jan 7th, 2017

In 1994, most Americans said they owned their gun for sport or hunting. Fast forward twenty years and now most people say they have their gun for self protection. So what changed in this time; did crime increase? Actually, the data shows that crime ...Show More

Vigilantes

17:45 | Dec 30th, 2016

What drives some people to take the law into their own hands? Mike Williams hears stories from Europe, Africa and the US. Stories about the men – and it is usually men – who take it upon themselves to patrol the streets or seek out paedophiles onlin...Show More

Why Do We Make Lists?

17:12 | Dec 29th, 2016

Lists of things to do and things to buy. Presents we want for Christmas, or things we desire in a lover. Lists help us organise our thoughts and bring order to a confusing world. But what do they reveal about us? (Photo: An original Madonna handw...Show More

Forgiveness

17:50 | Dec 23rd, 2016

Could you forgive the person who killed your child or who raped or tortured you? Some crimes, some events are so awful, so cruel, it’s impossible to imagine ever being able to say to the wrongdoer, ‘I forgive you’. Mike Williams hears the stori...Show More

Why do we Get Road Rage?

17:39 | Dec 16th, 2016

Everyday millions of us across the world get into our cars and drive. For many of us this will be an unpleasant experience because of the behavior of other drivers or even because of our own bad behavior. Even the calmest person can become a raging d...Show More

Revenge

17:46 | Dec 9th, 2016

The desire for vengeance – to harm those who’ve harmed you - is part of human nature. Whether it’s getting your own back on a cheating partner or settling a score with a childhood bully, many of us have considered retribution against the person wh...Show More

The Female Orgasm

17:53 | Dec 2nd, 2016

Why don’t we understand how the female orgasm works? After years of scientific research, the male body is understood but when it comes to how women work, we are a long way behind. Why is there this gap in knowledge? It appears research has been h...Show More

Why Do Cities Make Us Rude?

17:46 | Nov 25th, 2016

When we are surrounded by people why do we tend to shun them? Why do we refuse to make eye contact or say hello? And, why do tempers flare on busy city streets? More and more of the world’s population are moving to cities. As they swell in size ou...Show More

The Family Tree

17:51 | Nov 18th, 2016

Mike Williams asks why so many people are obsessed with discovering their family origins and also learns new things about his own ancestors along the way. Genealogy is a growing phenomenon driven by the digitisation of old paper records, websites off...Show More

Hoarding

17:45 | Nov 11th, 2016

Imagine your home is so filled with stuff that moving around it is almost impossible. Every bit of space is piled high with books, pictures, DVDs and newspapers so you can’t even get into some rooms – not even the bathroom or kitchen. There’s nowh...Show More

Unconscious Bias

17:45 | Nov 4th, 2016

Are you sexist, racist or ageist? Even if you think you are open-minded, the chances are, you will be judging people and situations without even realising. These hidden biases – which are different from conscious prejudice – lurk within our minds. ...Show More

Eye Witness Identification

17:45 | Oct 28th, 2016

Can you believe your own eyes? Can you trust your own memory? Why is it that so many social scientists and so many in the police and the judiciary are so very concerned about eye-witness testimony. Mike Williams talks to an attorney at the Innocence ...Show More

Organ Donation

17:47 | Oct 21st, 2016

It has become quite a common thing but when you think of it, it is remarkable that we can take a part of one human (dead or alive) and insert it into another to cure them. Last year across the planet, an estimated 119,000 people received transpl...Show More

Farewell Letters

17:48 | Oct 14th, 2016

Why do we write farewell letters? Whether it is messages from the living to the dying or from the dead to the living, how can we find the words to say goodbye? A letter from a daughter to her dying father, a last letter from a soldier on the ev...Show More

Grief

17:48 | Oct 7th, 2016

Why do we feel so many different and intense emotions when someone close to us dies? Whether it is yearning, sadness, anger or even shame, Mike Williams explores why each person’s grief is unique. The pain of losing a loved one initially seems so...Show More

Assisted Death

17:46 | Sep 30th, 2016

Is it ever right to take a life? Mike Williams explores the ethical dilemmas of assisting death. In a few countries, terminally-ill people — suffering pain and distress — are allowed to get help from friends, family and physicians to bring their ...Show More

Why do Crazes Take Off?

17:48 | Sep 26th, 2016

Pokemon Go has been the runaway success of the summer but why is it that some games, hobbies and activities become crazes while others do not? Is there a secret formula? Johanna Basford, the illustrator behind the current adult colouring book craze a...Show More

Comic Book Superheroes

17:55 | Sep 23rd, 2016

Why are we so fascinated with the likes of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman - the superheroes which populate our cinema screens and comic-books? These modern, mythical, magical titans emerged from 20th century comic books but they’re descended from ...Show More

Why do we find some voices irritating?

17:54 | Sep 12th, 2016

On the last episode of The Why Factor Mike Williams explored the human voice in all of its unique power and beauty; this week we investigate its unique ability to irritate and annoy. We all have our personal bugbears when it comes to irritating v...Show More

The Voice

17:53 | Sep 2nd, 2016

We each have a unique voice, shaped by our biology, history, class and education. It is a powerful tool and we are often judged by the very first words out of our mouths. Mike Williams discovers what makes one voice trustworthy and another not. We...Show More

Why not celebrate introvert personalities?

17:52 | Aug 26th, 2016

Introverts. People who are often labelled as shy, a term coined following the work on personality types by German psychologist, Carl Jung, in 1921. But introversion is much misunderstood. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone whereas ...Show More

Why do pet videos go viral?

17:48 | Aug 19th, 2016

The Why Factor is about our pets on the internet. Those viral videos of our cats stalking us or the dogs saying I love you. Why have cats become celebrities and why do we love to watch and follow them on social media? Mike Williams meets the cat at...Show More

Fear of Animals

17:48 | Aug 12th, 2016

Why do we still fear animals that pose no serious threat to us and how can the effect of that irrational fear be so overpowering? As Mike Williams discovers in this week’s Why Factor, the answers lie deep in our evolutionary past and deep inside our ...Show More

Fear vs Fact

17:52 | Aug 5th, 2016

Mike Williams asks if we now live in a post-factual age — where messages of fear dominate and the truth goes unspoken or unheard? He investigates the “Backfire Effect” which means that entrenched views can become more entrenched – when confronted by...Show More

Driving

17:50 | Jul 29th, 2016

Why do we love driving? Mike Williams asks if we would miss driving, as auto-piloted cars are tested in cities around the world. He talks to Dr Lisa Dorn, psychologist and associate professor of driver behaviour, Dr Zia Wadud an associate professor ...Show More

Violence

17:34 | Jul 22nd, 2016

Anybody who watched the European Championships of football this summer in France would have seen shocking scenes of violence between fans. The vast majority, if not all, were men. Men also commit more than 90% of murders across the world and are more...Show More

Why Are We Getting Smarter

17:52 | Jul 15th, 2016

For many decades now we’ve been getting smarter. All across the planet average IQ results have been rising… by about 3 points every ten years. It’s called the Flynn Effect and it’s changing our societies. So what is it? What causes it? And what co...Show More

Newspapers

17:53 | Jul 8th, 2016

Free, digital news is threatening traditional newspapers around the world, so why do they survive and what is their future? Mike Williams speaks to legendary newspaper editor Sir Harry Evans and journalist in exile Qaabata Boru who fought to set up a...Show More

Attraction

17:52 | Jun 27th, 2016

Why are we attracted to some people and to not others? Mike Williams explores the factors that lie behind our feelings of attraction. He speaks to the authors Christy and Clare Campbell. Christy fell in love at first sight, but it took Clare six mont...Show More

Loneliness

17:53 | Jun 17th, 2016

What is loneliness and why do we feel it? Why do some people feel lonely when surrounded by people and others never feel lonely at all. Mike Williams finds out why feeling lonely can help us to survive. Feelings of loneliness do not only come fro...Show More

Safe Space

17:51 | Jun 13th, 2016

The ideal university experience is expected to train the minds of students by exposing them to new ideas and challenging their assumptions. Why then, in the English speaking west at least, are some students rebelling against this principle by insist...Show More

Copying Art

17:52 | Jun 10th, 2016

Why do people try to create old masters and modern art, brush stroke by brush stroke? And, why do people buy them? He talks to art copier David Henty, fine art expert and gallery owner Philip Mould, Paul Dong a Beijing based art auctioneer, Colette ...Show More

Thin

17:52 | May 27th, 2016

For thousands of years, a thin body was a sign of poverty or disease. But there is now a growing, global obsession with being thin. And this at a time when many populations around the world are, paradoxically, suffering epidemics of obesity. Mike Wi...Show More

Why Are We Afraid of Robots?

17:57 | May 20th, 2016

Robots are in our homes, our factories, on battlefields and in hospitals. Some are smarter than us, some are faster. Some are here to help us, others not. Science fiction is filled with malign machines which rise against humanity. In the Why Factor t...Show More

Time Perception

17:51 | May 13th, 2016

Mike Williams asks why some weeks just fly by but sometimes minutes can seem like hours? Why do we perceive time differently in different circumstances? Mike talks to Pakistani writer and broadcaster Raza Rumi; Claudia Hammond, author of Time Warped;...Show More

Statues: Why We Put People on Pedestals

17:55 | May 6th, 2016

For thousands of years mankind has erected pillars of public art. Statues exist across almost every culture. To some they pay homage to gods, to others they are attempts at immortalising man. Their toppling has become a symbol of regime change. They ...Show More

Life, Liberty and the American Identity

49:46 | Apr 30th, 2016

As part of the BBC World Service “Identity” season The Why Factor explores how the one of the fundamental tenets of our personal make up, our national identity. Few countries have a stronger sense of themselves than the United States of America an...Show More

How the Rest of the World Sees America

17:47 | Apr 29th, 2016

Mike Williams asks what the rest of the world thinks of the United States, one of the most recognisable nations on the planet. This is the second part of a programme looking into the concepts of identity for the BBC World Service's Identity season. ...Show More

Dolly, Dylan or Daft Punk

49:54 | Apr 23rd, 2016

Pop, Blues, RnB, Hip Hop, Folk, Reggae, Metal - why do we like the music that we like? As part of the Identity Season, BBC Radio 1 presenter Gemma Cairney asks why we listen to the music we do. What is the importance of music in forming an identity i...Show More

How America Sees Itself

17:46 | Apr 22nd, 2016

What are notions of national identity and how does it arise? We look at probably the most powerful country on the planet - the United States of America. What is its character? And what do Americans see when they look at themselves. Mike Williams trav...Show More

Radio Requests

17:56 | Apr 15th, 2016

When there are so many ways in the world we can listen to music, why does getting your request played on a radio station feel universally so special and exciting? Gemma Cairney speaks to music fans and radio stations from Mexico to Myanmar. They tell...Show More

Why I’m Not Just Blind

18:02 | Apr 8th, 2016

Lee Kumutat examines why blindness comes to define the identity of people who have little or no sight. And why is sight so highly prized by people who have it. She talks to people in Kingston Jamaica, Accra in Ghana, in Edinburgh Scotland and Califo...Show More

Identity

17:51 | Apr 1st, 2016

As part of the BBC World Service Season on Identity, The Why Factor examines one simple question: Who are you? Did you choose your identity or was it given to you? Mike Williams asks how our identities are created and if that shapes the way we se...Show More

Fanfiction

18:00 | Mar 29th, 2016

A pregnant Captain Kirk gives birth on the Enterprise, Harry Potter and his rival Draco Malfoy fall in love and you take a starring role in your favourite book, film or TV show. Seems unlikely? With fanfiction any of this - and more - becomes possibl...Show More

Supernatural Powers

17:59 | Mar 18th, 2016

Juju, Evu, Witchcraft, the evil eye, Voodoo, black magic. There are many names for beliefs that supernatural forces can be harnessed by people who are out to cause harm. Harm to someone’s health, finances, relationships, even their political ambiti...Show More

Magicians: Inside their Minds

17:56 | Mar 11th, 2016

Tricksters, conjurers, the world of magicians. Who are they and why do they do what they do? We began by asking ourselves why we enjoy magic shows and why we allow them to deceive us. But it turns out that the psychology of the magicians themselves i...Show More

Conspiracy Theory

17:59 | Mar 4th, 2016

Throughout history people have held conspiracy theories which cast doubt on the official narratives of some very serious events - from the Holocaust to 9/11, Diana to JFK, Lockerbie to Sandy Hook. What prompts people to think in this way? How shou...Show More

Why We Search for the Origins of Life

17:50 | Feb 26th, 2016

Mike Williams visits the ultimate cathedral of science, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, where researchers from around the world have built the largest single machine on earth to discover some of the most extreme elements of nature, from the heart ...Show More

Addiction: Why Do Some People Succumb to it?

18:01 | Feb 19th, 2016

What happens when the biochemistry of the brain’s pleasure and reward system goes wrong? How can something that starts off being pleasurable end up making us feel so low? Mike Williams talks to scientists and former addicts to search for some answers...Show More

Pleasure: Why We Like the Things We Like

17:54 | Feb 12th, 2016

Why do we like the things that we like? At the root of it is 3, 4 -Dihydroxyphenethylamine - or Dopamine - a chemical produced by the nerve cells in the brain to signal to others. But as Mike Williams finds out our pleasure circuit can be triggered b...Show More

Why is Water Exceptional?

17:49 | Feb 5th, 2016

Water is the only molecule in the natural world which expands when it freezes. And that is not its only unusual feature. It is the cornerstone of all of life on this planet, and maybe others. Water is part of the myths and rituals of civilisations al...Show More

Impersonators: Why do People Pretend to be Someone Else?

17:59 | Jan 29th, 2016

Impersonators, imposters, con-artists and entertainers – those people who pretend to be who they are not. Some do it for financial gain, some to pay tribute to a music icon and some simply to raise a laugh. But what happens when people start to belie...Show More

Age of Consent

17:52 | Jan 22nd, 2016

The age of consent is the age at which a person is considered by law to be capable of agreeing to sex. It is just a number, but a number which varies greatly around the world. It is bound up with child protection, notions of honour and marriage, and ...Show More

Why Do we Want or Need Heroes?

17:50 | Jan 15th, 2016

On the Why Factor this week, Angie Hobbs asks why do we want or need heroes? What constitutes a heroic act? Is it something you set out to do, or something you don’t choose, but live up to when it’s thrust upon you? And why do societies celebrate he...Show More

Hypocrisy: Why do People Often say One Thing and do Another?

17:51 | Jan 8th, 2016

Do as I say, not as I do. No-one likes a hypocrite, and we like being accused of hypocrisy even less. Yet most of us are hypocritical to some degree. So why do we profess one thing but do another? How far is hypocrisy part of the human condition? And...Show More

Hunting

17:57 | Jan 1st, 2016

Why do we hunt? In some societies hunting is necessary to get food, but why do those who can buy meat in a shop go out hunting? Do they like to kill? Or is there something else at play? Lucy Ash talks to hunters from Canada, South Africa, the US and ...Show More

Group Thinking

17:50 | Dec 25th, 2015

Anyone who has ever been in a meeting has seen the phenomenon of "Groupthink" first hand. The will of the crowd over shadows the wisdom of individuals and it can lead to dangerous consequences. Mike Williams asks why humans succumb to "Groupthink" an...Show More

Why Do We Make Lists?

18:00 | Dec 18th, 2015

Lists of things to do and things to buy. Presents we want for Christmas, or things we desire in a lover. Lists help us organise our thoughts and bring order to a confusing world. But what do they reveal about us? (Photo: An original Madonna handwr...Show More

Why Do We Wear Skirts?

18:01 | Dec 11th, 2015

It’s a simple item of dress but one that says much about the societies in which we live. Mike Williams looks at this most basic form of dress the skirt. A rectangle cloth which throughout centuries has been associated with great meaning including wo...Show More

Why Do We Wear Ties?

18:00 | Dec 4th, 2015

Mike William looks at the paradox at the heart of the human condition - the desire to belong and to conform, but also to hold onto our individuality. And we see a symbol of this paradox every day in an apparently useless piece of clothing about 150 c...Show More

Why do we wear Suits?

17:58 | Nov 27th, 2015

It’s a style of dress that’s spread around the world - the suit. It’s survived, largely unchanged, for the three centuries. But, where does it come from, what’s its appeal and what does it say about those who wear it? Mike Williams talks to fashio...Show More

What Makes us Want to Wear T-Shirts?

17:55 | Nov 20th, 2015

They’re something you probably see every day… maybe hundreds of them, thousands. Plain ones, coloured ones, funny ones. Often they’re promotional, sometimes provocative. They’re so common that they’re very easy to ignore. From the catwalk to the ...Show More

Tutoring

17:48 | Nov 13th, 2015

Why is private tutoring becoming so commonplace? In London it is estimated that 50% of schoolchildren have a tutor at some point. In Hong Kong, that figure is much higher. What impact does tutoring have education systems around the world? And does it...Show More

Why Can’t Some People Eat Certain Foods?

18:00 | Nov 6th, 2015

In some countries, about 10% of their population suffers from a food allergy. What is going on? And why do an increasing number of people believe they have an allergy when they don’t? Mike Williams asks how the food industry has responded to this gr...Show More

Why Do We Love the Bicycle?

18:00 | Oct 30th, 2015

The bicycle - and cycling - started out as somewhat of a faddish leisure pursuit, largely the preserve of middle-aged and wealthy men. Yet it quickly became the world’s most popular means of transport and remains so to this day. So what lies behind i...Show More

Why Does Everyone Wear Trainers?

18:02 | Oct 23rd, 2015

Sneaker, trainer call them what you will. How did this product of the industrial revolution and a rising middle class become a global fashion item worth tens of billions of dollars a year? Especially when 85% of the purchases are never intended for ...Show More

Why Do we Support Sports Clubs?

18:00 | Oct 16th, 2015

Every week, hundreds of millions of people around the world surrender their emotions; leave them - for a while - in the hands of strangers. They might face dejection or, with luck, jubilation. The US National Basketball association say that less than...Show More

Why Does Commuting Make us the Way we Are?

17:59 | Oct 9th, 2015

Hundreds of millions of us bear the stress and boredom of the same journey day in day out - the commute. For some it is a time of reflection while for others it is a time to turn the air blue with howls of frustration. Why does commuting make us the ...Show More

Graffiti: Why do we do it?

17:51 | Oct 2nd, 2015

From Stone Age caves, to the buildings of Pompeii and on the walls of our modern cities we find evidence of a very human – and ancient – urge to leave a mark. Why? Mike Williams joins the artists at a Graffiti competition held in London and talks to ...Show More

Why Do We Love Dolls?

17:52 | Sep 25th, 2015

They are human and inanimate, beautiful yet disturbing; made for children but collected by adults. From the rag dolls of Ancient Egypt to the mass produced plastic fashion dolls of today, they have existed in almost every culture. Traditionally, they...Show More

Why Does the World Love Drinking Tea?

17:50 | Sep 18th, 2015

Tea comes in many guises - milky, sweet and spicy for those in India. The Chinese drink it as nature intended green with no milk and strong with two sugars for the average British builder. So how did this Asian leaf conquer the world to become the se...Show More

Why do Humans Need so Much Space?

17:50 | Sep 11th, 2015

Some of us are content to surrender our personal space to serve on a submarine, while some of us struggle with claustrophobia. As we become more urban and the global population increases, we have to get used to having less space but some architects s...Show More

Why do we have Human Rights?

17:53 | Sep 4th, 2015

The UN proclaimed its Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, after the horrors of World War Two. But they are far from universally upheld. Yecenia Armenta Graciano’s right not to be tortured was grievously violated in Mexico, when she was bea...Show More

World War One: Sacrifice

49:50 | Aug 29th, 2015

To mark the centenary of World War One, Mike Williams explores the meaning of sacrifice. We often talk of military sacrifice - young men and women, giving their lives for a higher cause. The “ultimate sacrifice”. Countless acts of bravery on the batt...Show More

Why do people sacrifice their lives?

17:58 | Aug 28th, 2015

Why do people give their lives for a nation? For a cause? As the world marks the centenary of the First World War, bereaved families reflect on the sacrifices made by their loved ones. What is the true nature of modern sacrifice? Presented by...Show More

Talking about Death

17:53 | Aug 21st, 2015

It’s something that will come to all of us. So why is it so hard to talk about death? Mike Williams meets a British doctor facing her own mortality and another in India who wrestles with telling her patients the bad news. Produced by Smita Patel ...Show More

Why Do We Need Diaries?

17:53 | Aug 14th, 2015

We trust them with our deepest secrets, and use them to preserve our memories. They’ve been hidden, destroyed, and read without permission. Mike Williams talks to people who write diaries, and the historians on a mission to "rescue" the diaries of no...Show More

Why do we travel?

17:58 | Aug 7th, 2015

Mike Williams asks why do we travel? Why do we leave the comforts of our homes to go to other places? Psychology has shown that travel - even just thinking about other countries - broadens our minds and makes us more creative. But we travel for...Show More

What is a Home?

17:54 | Aug 3rd, 2015

For most of us it is a sanctuary. But some people have no home at all, while for others it can become a place of terror and pain. What is home and why is the notion of home so deeply embedded in us? Mike Williams finds out how we shape our homes and ...Show More

Encryption

17:53 | Jul 24th, 2015

We use encryption every day - in our bank transfers, on our mobile phones and whenever we buy anything online. Yet what is it and why is it so important? Mike Williams explores cryptography from the Roman Caesar Cipher to modern day computer encrypti...Show More

Why do Top Sportsmen and Women Choke?

18:02 | Jul 17th, 2015

The journalist, author and Olympian Matthew Syed blew it big time at the Sydney 2000 games. Despite a GB medal prospect in table tennis, he was thrashed by an opponent he had beaten many times before. He choked. Ever since, he has been keen to unders...Show More

Nationality

17:51 | Jul 10th, 2015

How would you describe your nationality and how much does it matter? When did we start defining ourselves by where we are from and why? And how does our nationality affect who we are? The concept of nationality, historically very specific, is bec...Show More

Why Do We Need Cash?

17:53 | Jul 3rd, 2015

We all use cash - notes and coins - but with the increasing popularity of transacting by other methods, mobile phone, debit cards, do we still need cash? Some countries in northern Europe such as Sweden and Denmark are working towards a cashless soci...Show More

Why do People Take Risks?

17:53 | Jun 26th, 2015

Some people actively embrace risk by jumping out of aeroplanes, scuba-diving or motor-racing. But we all face risks every day just by eating, drinking, walking and driving – simply going about our daily lives carries all sorts of unseen threats. And ...Show More

How Chillies Became Hot

17:55 | Jun 19th, 2015

The chilli pepper is a work of ‘evolutionary elegance’. Its complex chemistry can fool our brains. Why do we eat something that causes us pain? Mike Williams explores the origins and history of chillies, thought to be the hot and humid climates o...Show More

Why do we Draw?

18:00 | Jun 12th, 2015

Are some people simply more visual than others? And, what do we reveal through our drawings? Drawing is something we all do unselfconsciously as children before we learn to write. It is a form of expression that goes back 40,000 years and began on th...Show More

The Evolution of Beards

17:50 | Jun 10th, 2015

Why did beards evolve and what is the point of them? Evolution may have decided they make a man more manly and can attract the opposite sex but many women are divided in their opinion of the beard. In some religions and cultures a beard is sacrosanct...Show More

Blue Jeans

17:53 | May 29th, 2015

From its early days as work-wear for gold-miners and cowboys in the US, denim has transcended its origins, becoming a global fashion item. Mike Williams explores the appeal of a pair of blue jeans and the history of this simple garment. Once a symbo...Show More

The Y Chromosome

18:01 | May 22nd, 2015

The Y chromosome. What makes a boy a boy? In this programme we put the Y chromosome under the microscope. We find out how it transforms a female embryo into a male one. We discover what it can tell us about the differences between men and women. We s...Show More

Television

18:00 | May 15th, 2015

Television is beamed into our homes through a proliferation of channels and devices. TV has become an integral part of our lives, all over the world, in just a few short decades. Why has TV taken a grip on us which has never weakened? It influences o...Show More

Collecting

18:00 | May 8th, 2015

Stamps, coins, sea shells, wine - the list of things that humans collect is endless. But why do people do it? What does a collection of inanimate objects bring to our lives that other things do not? Are people attracted by the thrill of the chase, th...Show More

Jargon

18:00 | May 1st, 2015

Why do we use jargon - the deliberate obfuscation of language? Or in other words, saying things in a way that makes it difficult to understand. George Orwell, in the early 20th Century, hated this ‘inflated style’ of writing and there have been many ...Show More

Animals Are Us?

18:01 | Apr 24th, 2015

In stories, cartoons, advertisements and our everyday lives, we project human thoughts and emotions onto animals—and claim their strength and style for ourselves in the brand names of cars and cosmetics. Why do we do that, and what do we get out of i...Show More

The Circus

17:59 | Apr 17th, 2015

From clowns to tight-rope walkers, fire-eaters to elephant trainers, the modern circus has been around for centuries. Mike Williams explores its origins and asks why it appeals to adults and children around the world. As part of the programme, Mi...Show More

Daydreaming

18:00 | Apr 10th, 2015

Freud thought daydreaming was not a useful activity, and many teachers across the world have been heard to say “stop daydreaming” to their pupils. But it seems to have redeeming purposes. Opera singer Noah Stewart explains how he uses daydreaming...Show More

Suicide

18:02 | Apr 3rd, 2015

The desire to live is strong in us humans. But it’s not always enough. Sometimes people fall so low that they can see only one way forward. And every year, across the world, around a million people take their own lives. Why? The answers are ...Show More

The Refugee Journey

18:00 | Mar 28th, 2015

At the mercy of people smugglers, they are transported by night, walking overland and travelling by sea, hiding during the day. These are journeys that are long, costly, and sometimes deadly. Mike Williams follows the journeys of 'Howram', a Kurdi...Show More

Death Penalty

17:59 | Mar 21st, 2015

More than four billion people live in countries which retain the death penalty. Mike Williams asks why more than 50 countries around the world still execute certain criminals. What is the death penalty for and how is it carried out? He talks to a for...Show More

Forgetting

17:58 | Mar 14th, 2015

We look inside the brain to find out why we lose our memories, and why there are some things we can not forget. We talk to a neuroscientist seeking to unlock the secrets to how we remember things. And, the woman who can’t forget an episode that occur...Show More

Crime Fiction

17:59 | Mar 7th, 2015

Why do people all over the world enjoy stories about criminals and the people who bring them to justice? And what do the detective stories of a particular time or place reveal about that culture? From the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes to new S...Show More

Skyscrapers

17:59 | Feb 28th, 2015

In every city in the world there is a viewing platform where you can gaze down upon the place from on-high. But why do we like to build tall and be high – what is it about standing tall and defying gravity that matters so much? Are Skyscrapers simply...Show More

Chasing Riches

18:00 | Feb 21st, 2015

Why do the rich want to get richer? Why when you’ve got a million or even a billion do you want more? Mike Williams asks a multi-billionaire and a multi-millionaire what drives them to keep making more money. He also speaks to a banker, who looks af...Show More

Rejecting Riches

18:00 | Feb 14th, 2015

Why do some people refuse to be rich? The lottery winner who gave it all away, the vegetable stall holder who never allowed herself to accumulate wealth, and the businessman who sold his big house and flashy car to set up a Christian project in Ugand...Show More

Why are watches enduring status symbols?

17:42 | Feb 7th, 2015

We’re rarely far away from a device telling us the time, yet sales of luxury watches have never been higher. Mike Williams explores why the seemingly obsolete technology in mechanical watches is still highly desirable, and what wearing one says about...Show More

Sad Music

17:57 | Jan 31st, 2015

A recent study has shown that sad music has become increasingly popular, but why do people choose to listen to it, and what goes on in the brain and the body when they do so? Helena Merriman speaks to Japanese pianist and music researcher Dr Ai K...Show More

Why Do We Fly Flags?

18:00 | Jan 24th, 2015

Mike Williams asks why do we fly flags? They have many uses, from identifying symbols to signalling tools. But why a piece of cloth? Because it moves in the breeze, and movement catches the eye. The first flags were used by warlords in China, as Chi...Show More

Loyalty

18:00 | Jan 17th, 2015

Who are you loyal to? Your family, partner, employer? Why? Mike Williams talks to people whose loyalty has been challenged – from the wife of an unfaithful husband, to a doctor who blew the whistle on her employers. Are we ultimately only really loy...Show More

Portrait Photography

18:00 | Jan 10th, 2015

From the first photographic portraits captured in the 1830s to the “selfies” of today, we seem fascinated by images of the human face. Mike Williams asks if it is simple vanity or something deeper; perhaps an attempt to learn how other people see us...Show More

The Moon

17:59 | Jan 3rd, 2015

The moon has fascinated humans everywhere and for all time. Why? Mike Williams explores the moon in culture, how it affects life on Earth and he asks Alan Bean – one of the handful of people who have walked on it – what the moon is really like. Pr...Show More

Honour

17:58 | Dec 27th, 2014

People have fought for honour and died for it. People have murdered others because of it. Why is this notion so powerful and so lasting? In this edition we examine the honour-codes of the Japanese samurai, we explore honour in the works of William ...Show More

Perfume

17:59 | Dec 20th, 2014

For centuries perfume has been used to show status and wealth, for medicinal and for religious reasons and the global business is now worth tens of billions of dollars a year. So why do we still perfume ourselves? What image are we trying project whe...Show More

Sharing

18:01 | Dec 13th, 2014

Why do we share? What makes it different from giving? And what does it have to do with strategy and impulse control? Mike talks to the scientist Nikolaus Steinbeis who found out which region of the brain is active when we share and why small children...Show More

Nudity

18:00 | Dec 6th, 2014

We are all born naked, yet there is a taboo about displaying naked bodies in public. Societies around the world have established conventions about who may see what, when and where. So why does the naked human form provoke such strong reactions? A...Show More

Cookery

17:59 | Nov 29th, 2014

Why do we cook, and not just eat raw food like all other animals? Jo Fidgen hears that our ancestors first started to cook about two million years ago, and the advent of cookery coincides with our developing bigger brains, and smaller guts. Harvard p...Show More

Letters

17:59 | Nov 22nd, 2014

The disappearing world of the handwritten letter – a letter of advice on love from a father to a son, letters to a man who spent decades on death row in America, and letters between lovers. How will we understand our family history now that there is ...Show More

Poetry

18:12 | Nov 15th, 2014

Jo Fidgen asks why we read, or write poetry, as opposed to prose? What can poetry do that prose can’t? And why do we respond to poetry in a way that we don’t respond to prose? Jo talks to award-winning American poet Jane Hirshfield, to Cambridge cogn...Show More

Memorialisation

18:01 | Nov 8th, 2014

How we remember the dead, and why does it matter? In this special edition of The Why Factor Mike Williams starts with the promise of so many nations never to forget the death and suffering of the First World War, to explore how the dead have been rem...Show More

Memorialisation

49:59 | Nov 6th, 2014

How do we remember the dead and why does it matter? Mike Williams considers the promise of so many nations never to forget the death and suffering of World War One, and explores how the dead have been remembered around the world and through the ages....Show More

Chess

17:59 | Nov 1st, 2014

Why has the game endured over more than 1500 years and how has it mirrored politics and changes in society? We speak to Chess federation president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, chess pupil Diana Davletova, women’s chess champion Judit Polgar, Grande Master Dan...Show More

Embarrassment

17:58 | Oct 24th, 2014

A knot in the stomach, a blush to the face, a wish that the ground would swallow us up and end our misery. We’ve all experienced embarrassment and wished it would never happen again. But why do experience these feelings and what do they mean? Mik...Show More

Karma

18:00 | Oct 17th, 2014

Karma is a fundamental part of many eastern based religions including Hinduism and Buddhism. It is commonly interpreted as action. Those who believe in it say their past actions influence their life today and their future actions will have positive o...Show More

Brands

17:59 | Oct 10th, 2014

Walk down any street in any town or city anywhere in the world and you’ll be bombarded by brands screaming out to be noticed. It’s the way businesses get us to believe in their product, and to ultimately sell us stuff, but where does this concept of...Show More

What is Charisma?

17:59 | Oct 3rd, 2014

Why is it so hard to pin down what we mean by it? The Greeks called it a gift of grace, but it’s been widely interpreted ever since. Why do we disagree so strongly about who has it? And are its traits inherent or can they be learnt? The programme ...Show More

The Rivals

18:00 | Sep 26th, 2014

History and mythology are filled with great rivalries, the foundation of Rome by the twins Romulus and Remus, brothers first, then enemies. Rivals have spurred each other to create new technologies… think of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. They’ve gi...Show More

Risking Life For Strangers

18:00 | Sep 19th, 2014

Why would someone risk their life for a stranger? Why would a 54-year-old Englishwoman leave her home, her son, her grandchildren and travel nearly 5000 miles (8000 km) to the Ebola hot-zone of West Africa? Why did Cokie van der Velde do it twice? ...Show More

Protest

17:58 | Sep 12th, 2014

There are many ways to get involved in politics, so what brings people out into the streets to take direct action against the powerful? Mike Williams looks at some of the surprising motivations behind protest. Produced by Mike Wendling (Image...Show More

The 100th Programme: The Life of Why

17:59 | Sep 5th, 2014

In the 100th edition of the Why Factor, Mike Williams explores what we have learnt about our very existence. From teenagers and coming of age to retirement, burial and much more along the way. Producer: Helena Merriman

Gardens

18:00 | Aug 29th, 2014

For thousands of years, in every corner of the world, people have been gardening – including in war and in prisons. Helena Merriman explores the peculiar magic of garden and asks why people take so much pleasure in it. She talks to the designer of...Show More

Gossip

18:00 | Aug 22nd, 2014

It’s a regular, if not always a reliable source of news. Without gossip, cafes, bars and workplace water-coolers would often be silent. But why do so many of us feel the need to discuss other people’s lives? Gossiping’s been punished in the past, bu...Show More

Ghosts

17:52 | Aug 15th, 2014

Ghosts have been haunting people all over the world for centuries. But why do they persist in this age of reason? Mike Williams explores the fear and fascination ghosts produce and finds out how our reaction to apparitions has changed over the years....Show More

Chastity

17:55 | Aug 8th, 2014

From the Europe of the Middle Ages to the wired world of today, The Why Factor this week looks at chastity – a complicated subject, tangled up with morality and modesty, with politics and religion, and with the role of women through the ages. Mike ...Show More

The Pilgrimage

17:56 | Aug 1st, 2014

The Pilgrimage is one of the most popular and collective human activities, and continues to grow in size. Tens of millions of Hindus bathe in holy waters at the Kumbh Mela. Jews from around the world make their way to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I...Show More

The Walk

17:57 | Jul 25th, 2014

Why do we go on long walks? Aside from the seemingly obvious health benefits of exercise, what is it about walking which has had such long-lasting appeal? The German film director Herzog described walking as “spiritual” whilst Charles Dickens used ...Show More

The Moon

17:56 | Jul 18th, 2014

The moon has fascinated humans everywhere and for all time. Why? Mike Williams explores the moon in culture, how it affects life on Earth and he asks Alan Bean – one of the handful of people who have walked on it – what the moon is really like. Pr...Show More

The Apology

17:57 | Jul 11th, 2014

Why do we say sorry – and what do we really mean by it? Mike Williams explores the apology, from ancient Greece to today’s penitent politicians. Is an apology alone worth anything? Is it just part of a process, leading to action or forgiveness? And c...Show More

Coincidence

17:57 | Jul 4th, 2014

What is coincidence and why do we attach meaning to it? Jo Fidgen hears World Service listeners’ gripping coincidence stories. Some of them are almost unbelievable. But are we simply failing to understand randomness, and the law of truly big numb...Show More

World War One: Patriotism

49:47 | Jun 27th, 2014

Mike Williams presents a special extended edition of The Why Factor on patriotism. He asks what motivates people to serve their country and how this loyalty can be fostered, manufactured and manipulated. Mike investigates the power of patriotism from...Show More

Accents

17:57 | Jun 20th, 2014

On this week’s Why Factor Jo Fidgen meets an Englishwoman who suffers from a rare condition known as Foreign Accent Syndrome which causes her to speak with a French-sounding accent. What can her situation teach us about accents and why they matter? J...Show More

Why Eye Contact is Important

17:57 | Jun 13th, 2014

Why is making eye contact so important? Catching someone’s eyes across a crowded room can lead to a passionate love affair. Yet catching the wrong person’s eye in a bar could lead to a tussle of another kind. Mikes Williams explores why eye contac...Show More

The Fool

17:57 | Jun 6th, 2014

The fool – or jester – has been an important, even powerful, figure in many cultures, over many centuries. Why? Mike Williams explores the role of the fool, their place in culture and politics, and asks whether there is still a need for a funnyman wh...Show More

Diplomacy

17:56 | May 30th, 2014

Diplomacy - what’s it for and how is it done? We present a user’s guide to the 'great game'. We hear about the tense negotiations and the rows, about the polite language and the secret code words used to deceive opponents. And we hear about cigars an...Show More

Competition

17:57 | May 23rd, 2014

Why are we competitive? Is it a natural instinct? Should we nurture competition in our children so they learn that victory is the ultimate goal and that only the fittest survive? Or do we over emphasise the importance of competition at the expense of...Show More

Symmetry

17:57 | May 16th, 2014

Symmetry is everywhere once you become aware of its presence. We see symmetry all around us; in art, architecture and science, but also in more complex forms, buried deep into the genetic code of nature. Why does symmetry exist and why do we see such...Show More

Sticky Songs

17:56 | May 9th, 2014

What makes snippets of popular songs go round and round in our heads? Which songs are likely to be earworms or 'sticky songs' and what sort of person is most susceptible to them? If an earworm is driving you mad, how do you get rid of it? And what mi...Show More

The Kiss

17:56 | May 2nd, 2014

Is kissing universal to all cultures? It might be today, but one 19th century African chief’s daughter got a fright when a British explorer tried to kiss her. Do prostitutes kiss? Julia Robert’s character in the 1990 film ‘Pretty Woman’ said no to ki...Show More

Luck

17:58 | Apr 25th, 2014

Most people believe in some aspects of luck. Is believing in luck something which can empower us or does it mean we give up whatever control we feel we have over our lives? Mike Williams discusses luck with former professional cricketer Ed Smith...Show More

Horoscopes

17:56 | Apr 18th, 2014

Why do we read horoscopes? On this week’s Why Factor, Mike Williams gets a reading from celebrity astrologer Susan Miller and delves into the history and psychology of horoscopes. He unpicks the complicated relationship between religion and astro...Show More

Racism

17:57 | Apr 11th, 2014

Why are some people racist and judge others by the colour of their skin? Is it some deep seated fear of the ‘other’ which has roots in genetic and cultural difference or are exposure to artificial factors constructed by politicians and the media to b...Show More

Boredom

17:57 | Apr 4th, 2014

The programme examines boredom and discovers the history of how it developed as an idea and consequently became a moral issue. Boredom is becoming a fashionable area of academic research where surprising conclusions have been reached about its effect...Show More

Envy

17:57 | Mar 28th, 2014

Why do we envy other people? Mike Williams meets a woman who is experiencing severe ‘baby envy’ because she cannot have a child. He explores the role envy plays in literature, whether social media makes us all more envious and if the emotion - often ...Show More

Dance

17:56 | Mar 21st, 2014

Dance exists in every culture. It’s thought that humans were dancing before we learned to speak. But why do we have this desire to move, and what are we trying to communicate? Mike Williams explores the idea of ‘muscular bonding’ – that moving to...Show More

Family Names

17:56 | Mar 14th, 2014

Last names tell a story. Your last name could determine your career. It could decide how easily you move through society or alternatively how hard it could be to get ahead. Some last names grow longer and longer as they carry a family story from g...Show More

Given Names

17:56 | Mar 7th, 2014

What’s in a name? Each of us has one and it is a fairly fundamental part of us. But what does the name say about us - and about our parents who, in most cases - chose it for us? Why do some names go in and out of fashion? And is the freedom to n...Show More

Privacy

17:56 | Feb 28th, 2014

Although we assume a natural right to privacy, we readily give it away on our mobile phones and on social media websites. So as technology alters the very definition of what privacy is and the science of surveillance becomes ever more acute, is the i...Show More

Coffee

17:57 | Feb 21st, 2014

Why is drinking coffee so compulsive, and controversial? Mike Williams explores the spread of coffee drinking, and why its production, and consumption, matters so much around the globe. He hears about coffee’s dark origins as a mystical drink, it...Show More

Trees of Life

17:57 | Feb 14th, 2014

Wood is a vital human resource. But trees inspire myths and reverence. So, Mike Williams asks, why are our feelings about trees so mixed? He hears why every human age is a ‘wood age’, why trees are crucial to social life in African cities, why on...Show More

Adolescence

17:57 | Feb 7th, 2014

In the West, teenagers are commonly perceived as being volatile, moody and often seen as being “trouble”. Why? Well, because they are teenagers. All that growing, all those changes. But in recent years scientists have discovered that changes to the b...Show More

Touch

17:57 | Jan 31st, 2014

Why do we touch each other? And how do different cultures view physical contact in everyday life? Mike Williams explores our least-studied sense and meets a woman who gets her fill of human contact by cuddling people she has just met. (Image: A m...Show More

Homosexuality

17:57 | Jan 24th, 2014

Ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics next month and the controversy surrounding Russia’s anti-gay laws, Mike Williams and a panel of guests discuss homosexuality. Essentially, why does it exist? Is there any evolutionary advantage? And what is the curr...Show More

Masks

17:57 | Jan 17th, 2014

From sub Saharan Africa to the west coast tribes of Canada to the Mardi Gras of Rio, New Orleans and Venice, masks define realities - of religious belief, of healing power, of theatre and entertainment, of concealment and of memorialisation in death....Show More

Alcohol

17:57 | Jan 10th, 2014

Alcohol has been part of human civilisation for thousands of years. Evidence from pottery residues suggests that people in ancient China may have been enjoying the delights of wine as long ago as 9,000 years. But our attraction to the ethanol molecul...Show More

Running

17:59 | Jan 3rd, 2014

Running is experiencing an explosion in popularity in the UK and across the world. So why are we running now more than ever - the recession, the Olympic competitive factor, the new social media app revolution, public health awareness, mid-life crises...Show More

Nitrogen: Forgetting Fritz

17:55 | Dec 27th, 2013

Why has one of the world’s most important scientists been forgotten? Fritz Haber was the brilliant German Jewish chemist who used nitrogen to help feed billions, but arguably, kill millions. He worked with something without which, we'd all be de...Show More

Debt

17:58 | Dec 20th, 2013

Mike Williams finds out how the way we lend and borrow money is changing. He travels to Blackpool to meet 71-year-old Jeannette, whose life was ruined by debt. He speaks to David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5000 Years, and learns about a grou...Show More

Cross Dressing

17:56 | Dec 13th, 2013

Why do men cross dress? Mike Williams interviews Helen, a London Underground train driver, Peter a detective novelist - who prefers dressing as Penny - and Peter’s wife who helps to choose the clothes and decide Penny’s look. He talks to the artist G...Show More

Crying

17:56 | Dec 6th, 2013

Crying emotional tears is uniquely human. We cry over almost anything and for almost any reason – from tears of sadness to tears of joy. Music can induce them, films, stories and television news too. We do not produce tears when we are first born – i...Show More

The Heel

17:56 | Nov 29th, 2013

Why do tens of millions of women all over the world choose to walk around in high heels? Where did the fascination with elevated footwear come from and what do they tell us about class, power and sex? It may surprise many to hear that high heels wer...Show More

Solitude

17:55 | Nov 22nd, 2013

Solitude - time on our own – has had a bad press. It’s certainly becoming more common in many parts of the globe, as seen in the increasing numbers choosing to live alone. But it’s easily confused with loneliness, or demonised as weird or threatenin...Show More

Secrets

17:56 | Nov 15th, 2013

Secrets have become harder to conceal and easier to divulge with the availability of online blogs and other social networks sites as well as open office settings. Secrets can be used as weapons. They represent power, they can generate fear. In ...Show More

Optimism and Pessimism

17:55 | Nov 8th, 2013

Dr Michael Mosley, a self-proclaimed 'proud pessimist', says that given a choice he would prefer to be an optimist, as pessimism affects his relationships and optimists tend to live longer. So he recently agreed to try and convert his darker outlook ...Show More

The Lie

17:57 | Nov 2nd, 2013

We all do it… don’t we? If your answer is no perhaps you’re doing it right now. Many psychologists argue that learning to lie is an important stage for children. As early as two, children who are more developmentally advanced are much better liar...Show More

Speed

17:56 | Oct 25th, 2013

The Manifesto of Futurism written in 1909 declared that “the splendour of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed!” And the addiction has taken hold. So what is it about speed? A desire to lose control, a suppressed...Show More

Bullying

17:57 | Oct 18th, 2013

Why do humans bully, why do some do it and others allow it? Are bullies born or do they learn their bullying? Mike Williams speaks to anthropologist Christopher Boehm about links between the bullying behaviour of our ape ancestors and our own behavio...Show More

Swearing

17:56 | Oct 11th, 2013

#*?@! %$&@*! Why do a few, select words have such power to shock and offend? With help from swearing historian Melissa Mohr, Mike Williams traces the history of taboo language from Roman times to the present day and hears how cultural taboos have sha...Show More

Burial

17:57 | Oct 4th, 2013

Burial is a practice that’s been carried out for centuries by different cultures and religions around the world – but why do we do it? Mike Williams goes to a Jewish cemetery where Mitzi Kalinsky from the Jewish Joint Burial Society explains the reas...Show More

Nostalgia

17:56 | Sep 27th, 2013

Why do we look back and yearn for the past, longing for some golden age when society was supposedly simple, innocent and kind? Why do we recall sweet memories of our youth? And the bitter-sweet memories of love and loss? Mike Williams speaks to a...Show More

Sad Music

17:55 | Sep 20th, 2013

Helena Merriman asks why people listen to sad music. A recent study has shown that sad music has become increasingly popular, but why do people choose to listen to it, and what goes on in the brain and the body when they do so? Helena speaks to J...Show More

Fasting

17:58 | Sep 13th, 2013

Humans need to eat to survive. So why would someone go voluntarily without food - or even water? Many of the major religions observe periods of fasting for spiritual reasons. Charlotte McDonald speaks to those who have fasted to find out why the...Show More

Memory

17:56 | Sep 6th, 2013

Memory plays a big part in shaping our identity, but can we rely on what we recall about ourselves and about others? Mike Williams finds out how human memory works and why some memories flood back more easily than others. He also explores whether dif...Show More

Female Body Hair

17:56 | Aug 30th, 2013

Why do so many women feel the need to get rid of their body hair? Why is it fine for a man to sport hairy legs, but unthinkable for most women? It’s a sensitive subject - touching on ideas about female sexuality and gender politics that stretch b...Show More

Monogamy

17:56 | Aug 23rd, 2013

Around the world people have different rules for their relationships - rules often dictated by culture and religion. In many societies the most important of these is sexual fidelity - true love and monogamy are expected to go hand in hand - but why s...Show More

Celebrity

17:56 | Aug 16th, 2013

Why has the modern world become so obsessed with celebrity culture? Where does it come from? How do you achieve it? And how do you fake it? Mike Williams hears from Brett Cohen, a man who fabricated his own fame and became famous for not being famou...Show More

Mountains

17:55 | Aug 9th, 2013

For the last few hundred years, humans have tried to scale ever more dangerous peaks. But why do they do it? Mike Williams travels to the Alps to find out. He speaks to skilled climbers including the son of American mountaineer John Harlin II, who di...Show More

Violent Entertainment

17:57 | Aug 2nd, 2013

***Warning: This programme contains graphic descriptions of violence*** Why are we so drawn to violent entertainment? Violent films, video games and stories are very popular, as were brutal gladiatorial Roman contests and gory 14th Century jousts. W...Show More

Ageing

17:56 | Jul 26th, 2013

Why are attitudes towards older people often so negative? Traditional definitions used to mark old age at around retirement - 60– 65 years. But with many of us expected to live well into our 80s and beyond, that now seems absurd. Mike Williams talks ...Show More

Tattoos

17:55 | Jul 19th, 2013

In this programme, Mike Williams asks why people have tattoos. Where do they come from and what do they say about us? From the Maori of New Zealand to the Mexican Mafia, Mike explores the universal motivation behind why people decorate their bodies w...Show More

Fire

17:57 | Jul 12th, 2013

Why do we have such a fascination with fire? Our attempts to master fire have shaped who we have become – in some cases civilising us, but in other cases, corrupting us. What motivates arsonists to use fire as a weapon and what do the various myths a...Show More

The City

17:55 | Jul 5th, 2013

These days we humans have become an urban-dwelling species. So how has the city changed us? What are the pros and cons of life in a modern metropolis? From the experience of a single individual we'll zoom out, to view neighbourhoods and communities ...Show More

Bathing: Water, Health and Well-being

17:55 | Jun 21st, 2013

Why do we bathe? The second of two programmes examining the rituals of bathing. Last week: spiritual purification and supernatural waters. Do you enjoy a hot bath or is water too precious where you live to bathe in? This week is about clea...Show More

Bathing: Supernatural Waters

17:56 | Jun 14th, 2013

Why can the seemingly everyday activity of bathing mean so many different things for millions of people around the world? For some, unwinding in a nice, hot, soothing bath is a just reward after a long day’s work. For others, it’s an imperative act o...Show More

The Sea

17:57 | Jun 7th, 2013

Why is that so many of us are drawn to the ocean... to the sound of tumbling waves and the sights and smells of the sea? It captivated the likes of Melville, Shakespeare and Byron. Whether to view it from the shore, out on the waves, or under the ...Show More

Make-up

17:56 | May 31st, 2013

It is an essential part of women’s days all around the world – putting on their face before they leave the house. This week Mike Williams explores why millions of women and some men paint their faces. The programme delves back into history to look...Show More

The Ball

17:57 | May 24th, 2013

A ball is a simple, everyday object that holds such a deep appeal for us. We have been playing with them since the dawn of time on every continent. Mike Williams finds out why. Some scientists argue that ball playing helped us become human, by...Show More

The Lie

17:56 | May 17th, 2013

Many psychologists argue that learning to lie is an important stage for children. As early as two, children who are more developmentally advanced are much better liars. For some people, lying is something they can’t stop doing. We hear from someone w...Show More

Disgust

17:55 | May 10th, 2013

Disgust is something that we all experience, but what purpose does it serve? And what role does it play in our moral judgements? Mike Williams speaks to the ‘disgustologist’ Val Curtis about how revulsion protects us from disease and learns how di...Show More

Pets

17:56 | May 3rd, 2013

Why do we live with cats and dogs? Mike Williams meets cat and dog owners in Kenya and North Wales to find out what the real nature of the relationship with our furry friends is. Where did they come from? Why do we become so attached to non-humans? C...Show More

Gold

17:56 | Apr 26th, 2013

Gold - what is it about this rare, inert metal which has captivated us for thousands of years? The answers may not be what you might think. Mike Williams explores our obsession with gold. He looks at chemistry, Einstein's theory of relativity and th...Show More

Singing

17:56 | Apr 19th, 2013

It’s something that all individuals and societies have done for millions of years. But why do we sing? Today singing is a way of bringing people together, expressing joy, sadness and almost every emotion. Is there an evolutionary reason why and how ...Show More

The Kiss

17:53 | Apr 12th, 2013

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 r...Show More

Ageing

17:57 | Apr 5th, 2013

Why are attitudes towards older people often so negative? Traditional definitions used to mark old age at around retirement, 60–65 but with many of us expected to live well into our eighties and beyond, that now seems absurd. Mike Williams talks to t...Show More

Retirement

17:53 | Mar 30th, 2013

The idea of retirement is historically new. But with widespread demographic changes now meaning that many of us are expected to live into our eighties and beyond, how much sense does it make to stop people working when they reach their mid-sixties? ...Show More

Why do we get insomnia?

17:56 | Mar 22nd, 2013

Around 10% of the global population suffers from insomnia. Contrary to popular belief, it is not more prevalent in bustling, noisy cities nor in workaholics. While we might think of insomnia as a modern malaise, people have always had trouble sleepin...Show More

Sleep

17:55 | Mar 15th, 2013

The first of two programmes which looks at human behaviour and sleep Why do we Sleep? At first glance, it seems a silly question but actually it is one that’s been baffling scientists for decades. We spend a third of our lives asleep, but slee...Show More

Silence

17:56 | Mar 8th, 2013

What role does silence play in our increasingly noisy lives? Why can silences be so poignant or so awkward? Strangely for radio, the programme will contain lots of silence… and the thoughts of musicians, scientists, religious thinkers and others. ...Show More

PTSD

17:57 | Mar 2nd, 2013

This week we’ll explore Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD. What is it? And why is it so controversial? Many people in the world are exposed to extraordinary, traumatic events- wars, earthquakes, accidents and crime. Most recover in time bu...Show More