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The Why Factor


The extraordinary and hidden histories behind everyday objects and actions


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The extraordinary and hidden histories behind everyday objects and actions




Millennials and business

Whether it is the growth in co-working spaces around the world full of 20 and 30-somethings starting their own thing, to TV shows on entrepreneurship, all the way to the big successes out of California’s Silicon Valley, the millennial generation are attracted to starting their own businesses. However, it is not just about making money but also about passion and doing good. Christine Selph from Deloitte and professor Ethan Mollick from the Wharton School of Business give us an overview of...


Why do we text instead of talk?

We can now curate who we talk to in a way that wasn’t thinkable when a bulky landline phone sat in a corner of a house and rang with anonymous urgency. The screens on our devices allow us to communicate in any number of quick, cheap but silent ways.These modern technologies are very useful, which is why they are so ubiquitous, but are they taking something from us that is deeply human? Sandra Kanthal asks why we choose to text instead of talk, and if this incredibly popular form of...


Why do physical scars matter?

Physical scars can be sources of shame or badges of honour: acquired accidentally or a cry for help. How should we read them, and what do they tell us about ourselves and our place in the world? We explore the practice of scarification, intentional body modification which has been practised for millennia, where scars denote status within tribal communities and are worn with pride. Brent Kerehona tells us about the type of scarification he has: Ta Moko. We meet stuntman Andreas Petrides, who...



Dystopic fiction is going through a bit of a boom at the moment, but why is it that we can’t seem to get enough of stories where ordinary people struggle to survive against an all-powerful state, or in a post-apocalyptic world? Is it because they reflect the anxieties we already feel about the world we live in, or because they allow us to escape it? Shabnam Grewal asks: Why is dystopic fiction so appealing? Produced and presented by Shabnam Grewal Editor: Andrew Smith (Photo: Destroyed...


Victim blaming

The trauma of sexual assault is both personal and brutal. But what may be an indisputably traumatic event for one person is often challenged by another, and the responsibility for events gets scattered in the process. Why is it so common for people to look for reasons to blame the victims of sexual assault for what has happened to them? Nastaran Tavakoli-Far finds multiple reasons from this, speaking to experts and to victims. We hear from Dr Mithu Sanyal about the role of long-standing...



It’s the festive season, which means there are lots of parties going on. If you’re planning a party, what kind of celebration will it be? Organising the right food, drink and, crucially, guest list requires time and effort. Party planning has been listed as one of the most stressful professions you can have so, in the spirit of the season, in this edition of the Why Factor, Sandra Kanthal is asking: why is it so hard to plan the perfect party? Contributors: Claire Derrick: Co-founder, The...



Resilience is one of the buzzwords of the moment with multiple self-helps books and motivational speakers all promising us we can learn to be resilient, and use this skill to manage our pain. But what exactly is resilience and why does it help some people to cope better in times of stress than others? In this Why Factor, Abby Hollick examines why some people, in the face of trauma, seem to be extraordinarily resilient and tests her own inner reserves to discover if she is naturally resilient...


Why does music affect the way we feel?

An exploration of why and how music can exert a powerful effect on our emotions. Why does one particular collection of notes make us want to get up and dance, and another calm us down? Edwina Pitman hears from record producer turned neuroscientist Daniel Levitin about how our brains process music and from psychologist Victoria Williamson about how we react to the memories that sounds trigger. Renowned Hollywood film composer Brian Tyler demonstrates how he creates music that reflects the...


Why do we need to talk about men?

Many men believe their gender is under siege from a welter of criticism about male attitudes and behaviours. Not everyone accepts the idea of a masculinity crisis, but this programme looks at the concept of the “man box” – a set of attitudes and assumptions which many males struggle to deal with. Artist Grayson Perry joins the discussion. Presenter: Michael Blastland Producer: Anna Meisel Editor: Andy Smith (Photo: James Mace, Barber. Credit: Ian Burt)


Why grandparents are important

Asked to describe your grandparents, you may conjure fond childhood memories of trips to the park or going round for your favourite dinner after school. You may live just around the corner and see your grandparents daily or they might be a welcome voice on the phone, brightening your day from afar. Elaine Chong discovers just why it is that grandparents matter so much to us and she finds out what happens when grandparents step in to raise their grandchildren. In the township of Umlazi, near...


Why do we cheat on our partners?

Infidelity is seen as the ultimate betrayal, and many relationships are brought down by it. Around the world most of us agree that it’s wrong for a married person to have an affair, but that doesn’t seem to stop us: why? The answer could lie in our DNA. In this week’s Why Factor, Phoebe Keane hears how research into the mating habits of prairie voles could shed light on the extra marital affairs of humans and explores how we make decisions in the heat of the moment. Guests: Professor Steven...


Why are we conscious?

It turns out that much of what we do – much of our behaviour – can be conducted at an unconscious level. That raises a profound question. What is the point of consciousness? What evolutionary advantage does consciousness bestow? We speak to psychologists and neuroscientists for the answer. And we ask a philosopher whether science can ever unravel the deep mysteries of consciousness. The programme is guaranteed to hurt your brain. Presenter and producer: David Edmonds Editor: Richard Knight...


Why are we conscious of so little?

Sleep, day-dreaming, meditation – these are all different states of awareness. In these states we are not really aware of what is going on around us. But even when humans are awake, we take in very little about our surroundings. So this week we speak to psychologists and neuroscientists to ask, why are we conscious of so little? Presenter and producer: David Edmonds Editor: Richard Knight (Photo: X-ray image of human head with lightning / Credit: Getty Images)


Why are we shy?

About half the population consider themselves to have a shy personality, but most of us feel shyness in certain situations. Although some people may display outward signs of shyness such as blushing and being tongue-tied, shyness isn’t always visible to others; a surprising number of extroverts and performers are shy. Edwina Pitman examines what it means to be shy and attitudes towards shyness. Professor Susie Scott, Professor of Sociology, University of Sussex Kristie Poole, Department of...


Intuition: Why should we be cautious of it?

In the second and final part exploring intuition Nastaran Tavakoli-Far speaks to cricket players who used data to win championships and hears about business leaders who trumpet their successes and forget the times their intuition led to failure. She talks to psychologists and Nobel Prize winners about why we get so attached to our intuitions and forget the times it was wrong, and why we should probably use a mix of both intuition and rational analysis when making decisions. Alex Wakely –...


Intuition: Why should we trust it?

In part one of two episodes exploring intuition, Nastaran Tavakoli-Far speaks to a detective who had an intuition that someone was a serial killer, as well as hearing stories about firefighters who saved themselves from death after listening to their intuition. She also speaks to psychologists, neuroscientists and a Nobel Prize winning economist to find out more about how intuition is formed and how it works, and also hears about intuition’s role in the world of politics. Detective David...


Why do we love camping?

From instant messaging, to online shopping and even smart fridges, we live in a connected age where all of life’s essentials can be obtained at the click of a button. So why do so many people ditch the trappings of modern life and head off into the countryside with a tent? In this week’s episode of the Why Factor adventure journalist Phoebe Smith sets out on a journey to discover what makes camping so special. Along the way she discovers a camper in Kenya who spends his weekends alone...


Why do some people reject society?

All over the world there are people rejecting the society they live in and choosing radically different pathways. Some are abandoning the idea of a ‘family house’ in favour of a nomadic, solitary life in a camper van. They live frugally as they travel around the country, or even the world, in their tiny homes. Others go in a different direction, seeking a life which fulfils them and aligns with their values. They may end up in an ‘intentional community’, where both income and property are...


Why are we so gloomy about the world?

Statistics from around the world show huge improvements to our way of life, but many of us think the world is in decline. There are good reasons for this; climate change is often cited as the big one. But many of us aren’t aware of the huge strides we’ve made over the decades in reducing poverty, improving healthcare and tackling hunger. In fact, according to surveys of people in richer countries at least, the majority of people think the world is getting worse; but why? In this edition of...


Why do we (still) wear make-up?

In the 1970s, second wave feminists declared war on make-up - arguing it oppressed women, distracted them from gaining equality, and forced them to attain a beauty ideal not expected of men. And yet young women today wear more make-up than ever. Women have made gains in employment, education, sexual liberation, so why is it so many of us can’t leave the house without make-up? We explore the power and allure of mak-eup and why it works. Presented and Produced by Gemma Newby Editor: Richard...