Invisibilia is about the unseen forces that control human behavior — things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions, and thoughts.


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Friday, July 8, 2016 Permalink

The Personality Myth

We like to think of our own personalities, and those of our family and friends as predictable, constant over time. But what if they aren't? What if nothing stays constant over a lifetime?

Airing on Friday July 8, at  9 a.m. and 7 p.m. in place of Insight. 

Click here for a coloring page version of the episode art!

In America personality is often seen as destiny. Whether you're a famous CEO like Steve Jobs or a serial criminal like Hannibal Lecter, most of us think that our position in life has a lot to do with our personality. This episode looks more closely at this belief. We start at a Court House where lines of people who are getting married describe the personality of the person with whom they are to be joined for life. Then travel to a prison in Ohio where a woman has struck up a work relationship with a prisoner who it turns out did something far worse than she imagined. Finally Lulu talks to a scientist to come up with a complete catalogue of all the things about us that actually do stay stable over the course of our lives. They look at everything from cells to memories until ultimately they come up with a list — but it's a really short list.

Bonus Content:

NPR's health blog, Shots, will be producing special bonus content that explores the theme of each Invisibilia episode. The links below will go live as each feature is published or sign up for our newsletter to get it all delivered to your inbox on Mondays!

This week, Alix Spiegel dives into the science of personality, a psychotherapist who has worked with prisoners for decades explains how cognitive behavioral therapy can help criminals choose to become better and Annie Murphy Paul, author of The Cult of Personality Testing, says personality tests are about as useful as a Tarot card reading — but we still love them. 

Also, watch a beautiful animation from NPR's science video channel Skunk Bear, in which they answer the question "How old are our bodies, really?"