NPR Launches New Show Exploring the ‘Invisibilia’ of Human Behavior

This article was originally published on The Psych Report before it became part of the Behavioral Scientist in 2017.

What is it like to go through each day imagining stabbing an innocent person? Your wife?

“My wife is cutting carrots for a salad. Boom! What if I grabbed the knife and I were to stab her?”

That’s the predicament of S (full name not revealed). His story features in the first episode of NPR’s newest radio show and podcast, Invisibilia, which debuts tomorrow, January 9.

“There were a series of nights where I had told my wife maybe I’m just better off if you put me in like the psych ward,” S recalls in the show. “I mean, it was kind of like, at least there, someone’s there to monitor me, and I wouldn’t, there’s no chance of me hurting anyone.”

Invisibilia, meaning all the invisible things in Latin, aims to cover “the unseen forces that shape human behavior—ideas, beliefs, assumptions and thoughts.”

The first episode explores how our thoughts, which we can neither see, nor feel, nor touch, nor often control can have a profound impact on our behavior. In the case of S, uncontrollable violent thoughts began to take over his ability to function—to even be around other people.

The show is the brainchild of Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller two veteran, award-winning NPR journalists. Spiegel helped launch This American Life, now in its twenty-first year, while Miller cut her teeth at Radiolab, where she was a producer for five years.

Invisibilia’s first season will consist of six hour-long episodes published weekly as a podcast. The show will also air on more than 230 NPR affiliates around the country, while smaller clips from the show are slated to appear on Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

In their first season, Spiegel and Miller explore how things like fear, empathy, and expectations can shape human behavior. Through the stories of unusual people, like S with his uncontrollable thoughts and a blind man who uses echolocation to ride a bike, Spiegel and Miller examine the mental processes that shape us all.

In a way, the idea for the show itself came about from an invisible force. Only after Spiegel and Miller had already produced several episodes did the drive of the show become clear.

“The idea for this show, the framing idea of the invisible forces that shape human behavior, actually didn’t come until we had built two or three episodes, ” Miller said. “The theme came after noticing what kind of stories we were drawn to.”

According to Miller, one of the goals of the show is to provide the audience with the opportunity to reflect on their own lives and their own behavior.

“The idea is that each episode and each story might give you some new way of understanding your life and your own behavior,” Miller said. “In understanding that, you might get one new tiny little choice about how to live and how to think about things, and maybe that just gives you more options in your life and brings you a little bit towards living how you want to live.”