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The Cassandra Curse: Why We Heed Some Warnings, And Ignore Others

Why are some warnings heard, while others are ignored?
Angela Hsieh
/
NPR
Why are some warnings heard, while others are ignored?

After a disaster happens, we want to know, could something have been done to avoid it? Did anyone see this coming?

Many times, the answer is yes. There was a person — or many people — who spotted a looming crisis and tried to warn those in power. So why didn't the warnings lead to action?

This week on Hidden Brain,we look into the psychology of warnings. We'll turn to an unusual source — an ancient myth about the cursed prophet Cassandra — to understand why some warnings fail. We'll travel 40 feet below the ground to talk to a modern-day Cassandra, and we'll speak with a government official who managed to get his warnings heard. There's also a gory (and fictional) murder plot, and even some ABBA.

Additional Resources:

  • Christoph Meyer and Florian Otto,"How to Warn: 'Outside-in Warnings' of Western Governments about Violent Conflict and Mass Atrocities," Media, War & Conflict
  • Andrew Natsios, Sudan, South Sudan, and Darfur
  • Translations of Aeschylus' Agamemnonand Euripides' Trojan Womenin The Greek Plays
  • Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, Thomas Lu, Laura Kwerel, and Camila Vargas Restrepo. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain.

    Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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    Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
    Rhaina Cohen is a producer and editor for NPR's Enterprise Storytelling unit, working across Embedded, Invisibilia, and Rough Translation.
    Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.
    Thomas Lu is an assistant producer for Hidden Brain.He came to NPR in 2017 as an intern for the TED Radio Hour. He has worked with How I Built This, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Pop Culture Happy Hour. Before coming to NPR, he was a production intern for StoryCorps.