The Why Factor

Episodes

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20141106
Chastity2014080920140811 (WS)

Associated with morality, modesty, politics and religion why is chastity so complicated?

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 Williams speaks to, among others, an American campaigning for abstinence in US schools and a nun for whom chastity is an important part of the job. He examines chastity chosen, and chastity imposed.

Produced by Nina Robinson

Picture: Chastity belt, Credit: BBC

From the High Schools of the USA to the streets of Iran, this week we look at chastity

(Image: Chastity Belt. BBC Copyright)

Chess2014110120141102 (WS)

- has the game mirrored politics and changes in society?

The Why Factor looks at Chess – why has the game endured over more than 1500 years, how has it mirrored politics and changes in society?

The programme speaks to Chess federation president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, chess pupil Diana Davletova, women’s chess champion Judit Polgar, Grande Master Dan King, Artificial Intelligence expert David Levy, chess historian Marilyn Alom and chess author Dave Edmonds.

Poetry2014111520141116 (WS)

Why do we read, or write poetry, as opposed to prose?

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 cognitive neuroscientist Usha Goswami, to Brazilian “cordel” poetry expert Paulo Lumatti and to Rachel Kelly, author of Black Rainbow, who found poetry helped her recover from severe depression, and now reads poems in workshops with prisoners and others.

(Image: A poet writes before a poetry performance at a club in New York. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

01Why Do We Do We Have Tattoos?2012091420120915 (WS)
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Why do we do the things we do?

Mike Williams searches for the extraordinary and hidden histories behind everyday objects and actions. So much of what we do is assumed, it seems almost second nature. But where do those ideas, decisions and behaviours actually come from?

The series sets its own agenda and draws upon many but interconnected approaches: psychological, cultural, historical social anthropological, philosophical. It informs us about about the way we live now, about the human condition in the 21st Century.In this first programme, Mike 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 with ink.

02Why Do We Wear Ties?2012092120120922 (WS)
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This week he looks at the paradox at the heart of the human condition - the desire to belong and to conform, but also to hold tight to our individuality.

And we see a symbol of this paradox everyday in an apparently useless piece of clothing about 150 centimetres long - the necktie.

Why do we wear ties?

03Why Do We Behave So Oddly Inside Lifts?2012092820120929 (WS)
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This week, the lift - millions of us use this piece of machinery every day but barely give it a second thought.

But the lift, or elevator, is an intriguing place where strange things seem to happen to us.

In today's programme, Mike Williams looks at the history of the lift, why we seem to behave so oddly inside them and why Hollywood has made the lift such a scene of disaster.

04Why Do We Smoke?2012100520121008 (WS)

In this week's programme Mike Williams looks at why people start smoking.

Nearly 50 years after the world first learned that smoking kills, millions are still picking up the habit.

He also discovers who was behind one of the most lethal inventions of all time - the cigarette.

05The Bullet2012101220121013 (WS)
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The history and design of the bullet and why people use them

Mike Williams finds out why armies use one type of bullet, while gangsters use another and what the phrase full-metal jacket tells us about our qualms about killing each other.

The bullet has been at the heart of the world's battles for many centuries. Although the essential idea hasn't changed much since the 15th Century, the way the bullet and its use has evolved is revealing.

He hears from doctors, soldiers and criminals about why such a small object causes so much damage and what it means to shoot someone, and be shot.

06Why Do We Laugh?2012101920121020 (WS)
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What is it that actually triggers our laughter, do all of us find the same things funny?

At first glance, it seems like a very obvious basic human response - we laugh because we find things amusing. But what is it that actually triggers our laughter, do all of us find the same things funny?

In the edition of The Why Factor, we also look beyond comedy, at laughter in our everyday lives and the role it plays in the relationships between men and women.

We also hear some surprising and disturbing discoveries. Why, for instance, were those who carried out the massacre at Columbine laughing as they shot dead 13 people?

(Image: Comedian Omid Djalali. Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images)

At first glance, it seems like a very obvious basic human response: we laugh because we find things amusing. But what is it that actually triggers our laughter, do all of us find the same things funny? The programme also looks beyond comedy, at laughter in our everyday lives and the role it plays in the relationships between men and women.

And it hears some surprising and disturbing discoveries. Why, for instance, were those who carried out the massacre at Columbine laughing as they shot dead 13 people?

07The Shaved Head2012102620121027 (WS)
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Why do we care so much about the hair on our heads? Each year we spend billions of dollars on cutting, shaping and colouring our hair.

It's important for personal reasons, cultural and symbolic reasons too. But why? Find out, as we hear the stories of people who have had their hair taken from them.

08Why Do We Shake Hands?2012110220121103 (WS)
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Millions of us use this gesture but where does this everyday ritual come from?

This week, Mike Williams asks why do we shake hands?

All over the world millions of us use this gesture to greet others but where does this everyday ritual come from, and what purpose does it serve?

With the US presidential election just days away, Mike also looks at the role of the handshake in political life - why has it proved to be such a sensitive issue?

09Coming Of Age2012110920121110 (WS)
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Why do different cultures have different coming of ages?

Why do different cultures have different coming of ages? For some the advent of adulthood is celebrated by lavish parties, for others, by endurance tests and initiation ceremonies.

But they all share a commonality: the symbolic passing of childhood into the adult world which usually confers new rights: legal, political or religious.

But what really changes? And why is adolescence, for many, lasting longer than ever?

(Image: Mexican teenagers pose for photos following quinceanera, a coming of age party. Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

10Blue2012111620121117 (WS)
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Babies cant detect it. The Himba tribe of Namibia can't describe it. Picasso used it. In the West it's creative and reliable in the East it's cold and deathly. This week - blue.

The weird world of the colour blue.

In the physical, material sense, it's quite rare in nature... But, at the same time, it surrounds us. Babies can't detect it. The Himba tribe of Namibia can't describe it. Pablo Picasso turned to it after a friend committed suicide and in the West it's creative and reliable in the East it's cold and deathly. This week on the Why Factor, we're talking about something different - the colour blue.

11The Tap2012112320121124 (WS)
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What changes when taps come to town? Mike Williams travels to Ghana.

This is the story of what happens when running water comes to town. In a rural backwater in southern Ghana the instillation of a network of standpipes six years ago made life feel more safe and secure.

But very soon land prices shot up and the rich began to move in, connecting their own private taps to the water system and draining the reservoir.

The simple addition of taps has changed this region forever – but what does it mean for the everyday lives of the people that live there?

12Fear - 12012120120121203 (WS)

What is fear? Are our fears universal and how do we go about facing our fears?

In the first of two programmes on fear: we ask what actually fear is and discover it's a surprisingly difficult question to answer.

What does fear mean to us and how do we face our fears, imaginary or otherwise? Are our fears universal or culturally specific?

13Fear - 22012120720121208 (WS)
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In the second of two programmes about fear, why do some of us like to be frightened?

This week the second of two programmes about fear, why do some of us like to be frightened? Why, in a darkened cinema, do we enjoy and endure fear, horror and suspense? We'll delve into the human mind to find out.

We will also go behind the camera to learn how the film-makers manipulate our senses and play on our deepest, most primeval fears.

14The Drum2012121420121215 (WS)
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Why do we find the beat of the drum so intoxicating?

Why are human beings compelled to tap their feet or bob their heads to the beat of music?

It seems like a very basic thing to do. But no other animal is able to synchronise their whole body to a beat in the way we do, and very few other animals can even recognise a beat.

Mike Williams goes in search of where exactly in our bodies we feel this beat and what evolutionary purpose the ability to drum and move to the drum beat might have had.

(Image of a man playing drums - credit: Getty)

15The Sackman (and Other Stories)2012122120121222 (WS)
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The Sackman - a very different Father Christmas

Sinister tales of characters that terrorise adults and children at night pervade our cultures and have been handed down from generation to generation over the centuries - be that Kenya’s Nightrunners with their supernatural powers, to the European Sackman – the monster or man, who takes away naughty children in a sack.

In Iceland and the Netherlands this Child Catcher comes at Christmas, an altogether different version of the American Santa Claus. Why do we tell each other these stories? And what happens when folklore meets the modern world?

(Image of girl having nightmare Credit: Maria Pavlova, Getty)

Sinister tales of characters that terrorise adults and children at night pervade our cultures and have been handed down from generation to generation over the centuries, be that Kenya’s Nightrunners with their supernatural powers or the European Sackman – the monster or man, who takes away naughty children in a sack.

16Manners2012122820121229 (WS)
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The strange customs and conduct that make up ‘good manners’. Where do they come from?

On the programme today, the strange customs and conduct that make up ‘good manners’. Where do they come from? What purpose do they serve?

And how do they change from place to place?We’ll serve up linguistics, civility, civilisation and some gender politics too.

(Image of English film actor Roger Moore opening the door of his Volvo for Isabelle McMillan in a scene from the television series 'The Saint' Credit: Getty Images)

17Nitrogen: Forgetting Fritz2013010420130105 (WS)
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Why has one of the world’s most important scientists been forgotten?

He worked with something without which, we'd all be dead. It's in our DNA and the plants we eat could not exist without it.

Fritz Haber was the brilliant German, Jewish chemist who used nitrogen to help feed billions but arguably, kill millions.

Find out why with Mike Williams.

(Image: Fritz Haber Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

18The Heel2013011120130112 (WS)
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Where did the fascination with elevated footwear come from and what do they tell us?

Why do tens of millions of women all over the world choose to walk around on stilt like objects called 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 were first worn by….men.

(Image: Photograph taken of a lady in heels by Maria Pavlova - Getty)

19The Boxers Of Bukom2013011820130119 (WS)
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Why are the men of Bukom in Accra so good at boxing?

Why has the tiny area of Bukom in Accra, produced five World Champion boxers, including Ghana’s greatest ever fighter, ‘The Professor’ Azumah Nelson?

What does this area tell us about raw talent versus environment in the nature/nuture debate?

Why are the men of Bukom so good at boxing?

Find out with Mike Williams on the Why Factor.

(Image of Azumah Nelson trading blows during a bout in Las Vegas, Nevada. Getty)

20Mirrors2013012620130128 (WS)

Mike Williams explores the myths and mysteries of the mirror

Each day billions of us look into a mirror without giving it a second thought but do we really understand what we’re seeing?

This week, Mike Williams explores the science and history behind the mirror and hears about the myths and mysteries of this everyday object.

(Image of customers seen in a mirror as they shop for goods. AFP PHOTO. Credit to Louisa Gouliamaki - Getty Images)

21The Mob2013020220130204 (WS)

Why do we behave differently in crowds? An “angry” mob and “herd mentality,” – terms that are frequently used to describe events like the London Riots of 2011. But is there really something in us that changes when we are in a large crowd?

The French 19th century psychologist Le Bon believed that in a crowd we lose our minds, our sense of self and with it our moral compass. If he’s right, can we really be responsible for our actions when we are in a crowd? And should this be taken into consideration in criminal trials?

Or do large crowds have their own social identity, an identity which can be peaceful or violent. Some social psychologists think the difference between an angry mob and a peaceful crowd often depends on how that crowd is treated by the authorities. Are they right? Or is the morphing of a crowd into a mob a completely random phenomena?

Mike Williams puts these theories to the test in The Why Factor.

: Does something change in us when we’re in large crowds? If so, why?

22Black2013020820130209 (WS)
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Mike Williams peers into the world of black and asks why it has so many different meanings

From the mythology of night time and darkness, to being rebellious and cool, to a word which has come to define a race of people, black, as a colour and a concept, has always meant many things. Why?

Where do positive and negative ideas that have been associated with black come from, how much resonance do they still hold today? Mike Williams peers into the world of black, its science, history, psychology and politics and asks why black has so many different meanings.

(Image of a man walking down a darkened street during a snowstorm. Credit Getty)

24Cultural Memory2013022220130223 (WS)
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We all have memories but do we share some of those, socially or collectively? If so, why?

We all have memories but do we share some of those, socially or collectively? If so, why? Most countries have things in the past which they’d rather forget but how successful or otherwise are elites at coercing our “collective” memories or manipulating national narratives?

Mike Williams looks at the concept of cultural and collective memory and asks if after wars, or a period of intense trauma, is it best to confront our memories or is a period of silence the best way to come to terms with the realities of the past?

(Photo of a human brain scan. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

25Ptsd2013030120130302 (WS)
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What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and why is it so controversial?

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 but, for some, the trauma takes over their lives, leaving them unable to function.

Mike Williams talks to a war veteran and a tsunami survivor, who tell their stories of how they came to be diagnosed with PTSD. But do the public know what this diagnosis really is? Or has it been confused with a broader term for anyone who has suffered a trauma? Is it a useful diagnosis across cultures?

(Image of French soldiers in vietnam. Credit:STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Why do humans respond differently to trauma?

Why do humans respond differently to trauma? This week Mike talks to a war veteran who has suffered from PTSD and has now recovered; he speaks to psychiatrists and looks back to find out how humans have coped with traumatic events in the past.

Through time and across cultures, humans have witnessed terrible events, wars, violence and torture. Did they have what we might today call PTSD? What started out as a condition for returning war veterans has spread across the world to survivors of earthquakes to road traffic accidents but how useful a label is it?

26Silence2013030820130309 (WS)
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This week: what role does silence play in our lives?

This week: 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.

27Sleep2013031520130316 (WS)
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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 sleep science hasn’t got much further than being sure that we sleep because we get sleepy.

As Mike falls into a deep slumber to the sound of his own recording voice, we will find out exactly what happens when we sleep, from circadian clocks to sleep spindles to the famous REM, and how we have thought about this dark and private side of our lives across ages and cultures.

We explore conflicting theories about the purpose of sleep. One theory is that we developed our sleep patterns to allow our body and mind to repair itself at night. While we know our body grows and heals while we sleep, we know much less about what our brain is doing and a century after Freud and Jung’s explanations, we’re still far from scientific consensus on what dreams are for. Are we consolidating memories? Are we rehearsing our responses to threatening situations? Or is it all random imagery created by an organ that is designed to be awake and can never fully shut down? Another theory is that while our bodies use the opportunity while we are asleep for restoration, it is not why we evolved to sleep around 8 hours a day. Could it be as simple as we sleep because our ancestors didn’t need to be awake any longer?

(Photo of actress Joan Gardner asleep in November 1933. Credit: Getty Images)

28Why Do We Get Insomnia?2013032220130323 (WS)
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The second of two programmes about humans and sleep.

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 sleeping but are some of us more susceptible to it than others? If so, why?

Where did the idea that we all need seven or eight hours sleep come from? Is it true? Can insomnia really affect our genes and shorten our lives? What really works to cure it? The experts tell us what they think works and why. And we hear from insomniacs around the world about their search for a good night’s sleep.

29Retirement2013032920130330 (WS)
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Why do we retire?

The idea of retirement, when after a life’s work was a time to take it easy and enjoy the fruits of your labour, is new, but is it just a temporary one? Why should people be forced to stop working in their mid to late sixties? Does it realty make any sense any more?With widespread demographic changes meaning that most of us will live longer, Mike Williams asks how we might re-think this period of our lives.

(Image of a carpenter working in his workshop. Credit AFP/Getty Images)

30Ageing2013040520130406 (WS)
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Why are attitudes towards older people often so negative?

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 the old and the young, and asks how might we re-think of this period of our lives?

(Image of a woman holding hands with a relative. Credit: AFP/Getty Images )

31The Kiss2013041220130413 (WS)
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Why do humans kiss?

You might think it is a universal trait, something that we all do. But when Charles Darwin travelled the world, he met tribes who didn’t kiss. So is it a learnt response after all? A kiss can be used for different purposes: as a greeting, romantic or sexual gestures, whilst some people even kiss the ground. But where does it come from?

(Image of two women kissing at a festival, credit AFP/Getty Images)

32Singing2013041920130420 (WS)
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Why do we sing?

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 humans developed the complex vocal structures involved in singing?

Mike Williams talks to biologists, voice coaches and vocalists to find out.

(Image of Chinese women singing in a choir in Chongqing, China. Credit Getty Images)

33Gold2013042620130427 (WS)
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Why are we so fascinated by 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 the many myths and mystery of glorious gold.

34Pets2013050320130504 (WS)
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Why do we live with cats and dogs?

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? Can they love us back?

Mike talks to psychologist Sam Gosling who has studied whether there really are cat and dog people. And he questions whether the relationship is really all about fluffy cuteness – could there be a dark side to our keeping of pets? Human geographer Yi Fu Tuan thinks so.

Produced by Lucy Proctor.

(Image of an owner kissing her pet cat. Credit AFP/Getty Images)

35Disgust2013051020130511 (WS)
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Why do we experience disgust?

Disgust is an emotion 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 disgust can be used – and abused - as a political weapon.

He tests the limits of his own disgust – in the kitchen and with the philosopher Steve Clarke. And tries to find out – is there a link between how easily we are disgusted and the way we vote?

(Image of actor and comedian Frankie Howerd tasting his own cooking at home. Credit: Getty Images)

36The Lie2013051720130518 (WS)
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This week, why do we lie?

We all do it… don’t we? If your answer is no perhaps you’re doing it right now.

This week Mike Williams explores why we lie.

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 whose life spiralled out of control due to her addiction to lying.

But is every lie bad? The concept of a ‘white lie’ is one we teach our children from an early age but different societies socialise their children to tell different sorts of lies. East Asian societies might be more aware of a ‘blue lie’ for example.

We explore how different cultures define telling the truth and what that shows us about our societies.

(Image of a woman holding her hand on the bible. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

37The Ball2013052420130525 (WS)
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Mike Williams asks why we like playing with a ball, and what that says about us.

A ball is a simple, everyday object that holds such a deep appeal for us that we have been playing with them since the dawn of time, and on every continent. Mike Williams finds out why.

Some scientists argue that ball playing helped us become human, by developing the parts of the brain involved in speech, emotions and decision making. But why is ball playing fun? One explanation is that the unpredictability of never quite knowing where a ball will fall, means a ball game can give us the kinds of emotional highs and lows that would take unusually good fortune, or tragedy, to get otherwise.

You can listen to more programmes like this here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00xtky9

(Image of a young boy holding a ball. Credit to AFP/Getty Images)

38Make-up2013053120130601 (WS)
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This week, why do we wear make-up?

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 at why it was worn in the past and how this has shaped what we do today. He looks at the rise of the makeup industry and how it’s struggled to overcome cultural and biological boundaries particularly when trying to sell to men.

He asks whether the sheer scale of the make-up industry is driven by marketing or if there are more, innate biological reasons for the practice – a desire to look attractive and powerful.

(Image of a man applying mascara to his eyelashes. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

39The Sea2013060720130608 (WS)
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This week, Mike Williams asks why are we drawn to the sea?

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 surface, people flock to the ocean. Mike Williams explores literature and science to discover what it is about the sea that is so compelling. He speaks to Hanli Prinsloo, a free-diver, from Cape Town in South Africa.

(Image of people walking into the sea under a sunny sky on their way to a swim. Credit to: AFP/Getty Images)

40Bathing - Supernatural Waters2013061420130615 (WS)
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What is it about humans and our relationship with water which evokes so much in us?

Why do we bathe for purification?

In the first of two programmes on bathing, Mike Williams looks at bathing for purification.

This week, supernatural waters. We take a look at the rituals and symbolism of bathing; to wash away our sins, cleanse our souls, to prepare ourselves for an encounter with the divine....ceremonies of purification from Christian baptism to the Sacred River Ganges... from the ancient Roman Empire to the modern Middle East.

Next week: water, bathing, health and well-being.

Past programmes include The Sea, Make-Up and The Ball.

(Image: Hindu devotees bathe in the waters of the holy Ganges river believed to be the largest religious gathering on earth. Copyright: Getty Images)

41Bathing: Water, Health And Well-being2013062120130623 (WS)
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The second of two programmes looking at why we bathe: the rituals and practices.

42Confession2013062820130629 (WS)

Why would anyone confess to the bad things they have done?

43The City2013070520130706 (WS)
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This week, Mike Williams looks at life in a modern metropolis.

44Fire2013071220130713 (WS)
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Why do we have such a fascination with fire?

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 about the origins of fire tell us about how we view its power?

45Tattoos2013071920130720 (WS)
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Where do they come from and what do they say about us?

In this programme, Mike asks why people have tattoos.

From the Maori of New Zealand to the Mexican Mafia, Mike explores the universal motivation behind why people decorate their bodies with ink.

(Image: David Beckham's tattooed bare back. Credit: ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)

46Ageing2013072620130727 (WS)
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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 the old and the young, and asks how might we re-think of this period of our lives ?

(Image of a woman holding hands with a relative. Credit: AFP/Getty Images )

47Violent Entertainment2013080220130804 (WS)
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Why are we so drawn to violent entertainment?

Why are we so drawn to violent entertainment? Violent films, video games, dramas and stories are incredibly popular, as were brutal gladiatorial Roman contests and gory 14th century jousts. What explains this enduring attraction to violence and what kind of violence in particular are we most drawn to? And are people in violent societies just as attracted to violent entertainment as elsewhere?

The Mexican winner of the Cannes Best Director prize this year, a Professor of Fairy Tales and the guide for London’s most gruesome Jack the Ripper tour are among those answering this week’s question.

(Image of Daniel Craig pointing a gun, as James Bond. Credit: Eon productions via Press Association)

48Mountains2013080920130810 (WS)
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49Celebrity2013081620130817 (WS)
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Why do we elevate some people to the status of celebrity? What is it and what is it for?

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 a man who fabricated his own fame and became famous for not being famous. He also speaks to an academic who argues that evolution has left us foolishly following unsuitable celebrity role models.

From the world's first celebrity to the pop-icons of today, why are they adored by millions and why are they so influential. It's easy to understand why you might want to buy football boots endorsed by David Beckham, but why would you want underwear which carries his name or a perfume endorsed by the singer Beyonce or George Clooney's favourite coffee?

(Image of Justin Bieber arriving at a music video awards ceremony in Toronto, Canada. Credit: Getty Images)

50Monogamy20130823

Around the world people have different rules for their relationship - rules 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 should love mean forsaking all others? And what happens to relationships when monogamy is cast adrift?

(Image of couples kissing and celebrating the eve of Valentine's Day. Credit: Getty Images)

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Why do so many women feel the need to get rid of their body hair?

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 back almost to the beginning of time.

(Image of an actress with her arms up in the air, posing for a portrait. Credit: Getty Images)

It’s a sensitive subject - touching on ideas about female sexuality and gender politics that stretch back almost to the beginning of time.

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How human memory works and why some memories are remembered more easily than others

Is human memory reliable and can we control what we remember and what we forget?

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 different senses trigger different types of memories.

Mike speaks to memory experts Martin Conway, Elizabeth Loftus, Gisli Gudjonsson, Maria Larsson and Simon Chu. The reader is Roberto Pistolesi.

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 different senses trigger different types of memories.

(Photo: Image of a brain scan. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

53Fasting2013091320130914 (WS)
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Why people choose to abstain from food for religious - and non-religious - reasons

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has become more popular according to a recent study. Why do people listen to it?

Sad music has become more popular according to a recent study. Why do people listen to it?

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Mike reveals that looking to the past can protect us in a number of surprising ways.

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 social psychologist who reveals that looking to the past can protect us in a number of surprising ways. He hears from a woman from the former German Democratic Republic who waxes nostalgic about life there. And he meets a man born in the 1970s who spends most of his time living in the 1940s.

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is a practice that’s been carried out for centuries – but why do we do it?

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 reasons behind their burial practices.

He talks to Caitlin Doughty, an American mortician who is trying to revolutionise burial practices in the United States and considers what he would like to happen to his body, after he dies.

Burial is a practice that’s been carried out for centuries – but why do we do it?

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 reasons behind their burial practices. He talks to Caitlin Doughty, an American mortician who is trying to revolutionise burial practices in the US and considers what he would like to happen to his body, after he dies.

(Image: Gravestones in a cemetery. BBC copyright)

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Why some words have such power to shock and offend

#*?@! %$&@*! 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 shaped offensive language down the centuries.

He talks to American psychologist Professor Tim Jay about why we swear and discovers that children start using profane language at a much earlier age than you might imagine. And he meets psychologist Dr Richard Stephens who persuades him to take part in two swearing experiments, one of them rather painful, with some surprising results.

(Picture: A teenage boy in a hoodie making an offensive gesture, censored. Credit: BBC)

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Why do we bully, why do some do it and others allow it?

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 behaviour. He also speaks to author Helene Guldberg about the challenges defining the term as well as performance poet Shane Koyczan about his experience being both bullied and being a bully.

(Image of a teenage boy bullying another boy. BBC Copyright/Corbis Royalty Free)

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Why are we obsessed with speed? Mike Williams investigates.

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 childishness or just the reality of 21st Century urban life? And what would the speed merchants of 1909 in their 190 km per hour roadsters make of today’s rocket propelled cars trying to reach 1600 km per hour?

Mike Williams meets the students of the Bloodhound club at Heathland School west London, Wing Commander Andy Green preparing himself to attempt a new land speed record in Bloodhound SSC and experiences a bit of speed for himself on the Mercedes Benz World test track.

(Image: RDC 500 mile motor race at Brooklands race track in Weybridge, Surrey 1929. Credit: Getty Images)

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How different cultures define telling the truth

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 liars. For some people, lying is something they can’t stop doing. We hear from someone whose life spiralled out of control due to her addiction to lying.

But is every lie bad? The concept of a ‘white lie’ is one we teach our children from an early age but different societies socialise their children to tell different sorts of lies. East Asian societies might be more aware of a ‘blue lie’ for example.

Mike Williams explore how different cultures define telling the truth and what that shows us about our societies.

(Image of a hand held on top of a bible.Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

61Optimism And Pessimism2013110820131109 (WS)
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Why do some people have a darker outlook on life while others have a brighter one?

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 on life to a brighter one. Over seven weeks, his brain was manipulated by psychologists at Oxford University for a BBC documentary in order to try to turn Dr Mosley into an optimist. He reports back on the success or otherwise of the experiment. But do we have a choice? Ros Taylor says we do. Once a pessimistic average opera singer, she realised that her real passion in life was psychology. She retrained to become a clinical psychologist and claims to have taught herself to become a 'pragmatic optimist'.

Mike Williams puts optimist Ros Taylor up against pessimist Michael Mosley to ask if the glass should be half-full or half-empty and why should we care?

(Image: A glass of water on a wooden table. Credit: Getty Images)

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They represent power, they can generate fear, but why do we have them?

They represent power, they can generate fear, but why do we have secrets?

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 the shadowy world of espionage and in our ordinary lives secrets are a currency.

But why do we have secrets? And what are the consequences either for holding onto a secret or for giving it away?

(Image of a woman holding a finger to her mouth. Credit Getty Images)

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.

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- 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 threatening in the form of ‘the loner’.

So how far can or should we pursue solitude? How does it relate to our hyper-connected world?

We hear from a ‘semi-hermit’ on how she lives her life, a survivor of solitary confinement who also feared compulsory company, a champion of ‘the loner’s manifesto’ and an expert on global solo living.

How far can or should we pursue solitude?

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 threatening in the form of ‘the loner’.

(Image: A lonely man watches the sun-rise as he sits on top of a mountain. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

64The Heel2013112920131130 (WS)
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Where did the fascination with elevated footwear come from and what do they tell us?

Why do tens of millions of women all over the world choose to walk around on stilt like objects called 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 were first worn by….men.

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Why do men cross dress? Mike Williams looks for the answers.

Why do men cross dress? Mike Williams looks for answers and 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 Grayson Perry about the relationship between his art and cross-dressing and poses the question why is it that western society accepts men in kilts, priests in cassocks but has issues with men in skirts?

(Image of two transvestites kissing during a parade. AFP/Getty Images)

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Why do men cross dress? Mike Williams looks for the answers.

Why do men cross dress? Mike Williams looks for answers and 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 Grayson Perry about the relationship between his art and cross-dressing and poses the question why is it that western society accepts men in kilts, priests in cassocks but has issues with men in skirts?

(Image of the artist Grayson Perry walking down the catwalk during a fashion show, in London. Credit: Getty Images)

67Debt2013122020131221 (WS)
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Mike Williams finds out how the way we lend and borrow money is changing.

Mike Williams finds out how the way we lend and borrow money is changing. Mike 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 ground breaking debt collection service that finds people jobs before asking for their money.

(Image of a man holding US 100 dollar bank notes. Credit: Corbis)

68Nitrogen: Forgetting Fritz2013122720131228 (WS)
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Why has one of the world’s most important scientists - Fritz Haber - been forgotten?

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 dead. It's in our DNA and the plants we eat could not exist without it.

Find out why with Mike Williams.

(Image: Fritz Haber Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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Why do we run? Because we were born to run or because we want to be healthier?

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, rising life expectancy? Mike Williams, not exactly a natural runner, tests out these theories and is persuaded to try out barefoot running himself.

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Why do so many people drink alcohol? And why do some struggle to control it?

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 molecule may go back much further than that – to a time when our distant ancestors were eating nothing but fruit.

So why do we drink the stuff? What are the benefits? And why do some people have problems controlling their drinking?

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Tracing the power and use of masks and what they mean for us culturally

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. They have been around as long as humanity and they evoke both fascination and fear. Mike Williams traces the power and culture of masks and asks why we have them and what they mean for us.

(Image: A group wearing masks of legendary heroes as they perform a dance in Minhe County of Qinghai Province, north-west China. Credit: Getty Images)

Mike Williams traces the power and culture of masks and asks what they mean for us.

Masks: 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 memorialization in death. They have been around as long as humanity and they evoke both fascination and fear. Mike Williams traces the power and culture of masks and asks why we have them and what they mean for us.

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Why does homosexuality exist? Is it nature or nurture? Mike Williams and guests discuss.

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 current thinking in the nature vs nurture debate?

(Image: A participant unfolds a rainbow flag during a local annual gay pride parade. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

73Touch2014013120140201 (WS)
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Why do humans touch each other? And how do different cultures view physical contact?

Why do humans touch each other? And how do different cultures view physical contact in everyday life? Mike Williams explores how personal contact influences people, asks where the boundaries are for touching, and meets a woman who offers a paid-for snuggling service.

(Image of a mother and daughter holding hands. Credit: Getty Images)

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Mike Williams asks why adolescence is often so difficult.

In the west, teenagers are commonly perceived as being volatile, moody and are often seen as being “trouble.” Why? Well, er, because they’re teenagers aren’t they? All that growing, all those changes...

But in recent years scientists have discovered that changes to the brain, which occur during puberty, make young people less able to control their emotions and result in different attitudes towards risk as compared to adults. Can these changes to the brain explain why adolescence can be such a difficult period of our lives? Or is adolescence a manufactured cultural concept we’ve invented?

Find out on The Why Factor with Mike Williams.

(Image of three teenagers smiling. Credit: Think Stock)

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Why are our feelings about trees so mixed? Mike Williams explains

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 one New Zealander swapped cutting trees for spending nights in them, and why Danes fear global disease and climate change may lose them their mythical ‘tree of life’

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Why is drinking coffee compulsive and controversial? Mike Williams explains

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, its social function in café societies, and its recent spread through trends such as ‘Seattle coffee culture’. Are tea-drinking cultures willing to be converted? And what does coffee’s future look like in the great producer nations like Brazil, facing huge variations in world prices and the long-term threat of climate change?

(Image of a person holding coffee beans. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

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Why is privacy so important to us?

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 idea of privacy little more than a quaint last-century notion? Mike Williams traces its history, and ponders what a society without privacy might look like.

(Image: Girls peer through a crack in the door. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Privacy: 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 idea of privacy little more than a quaint last century notion? Mike Williams traces its history, and ponders what a society without privacy might look like.

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Everyone has one, but what do names say about us?

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 name our children as we wish a fundamental human right? In the first of two programmes on names, we begin with first or given names. The programme is presented by the solidly-named Mike Williams.

(Image: A mixture of names from around the world. BBC Copyright)

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Could your last name determine your career? Mike Williams explains

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 generation to generation. Others stagger under a double barrel as partners perpetuate their own last names through their children and a hyphen.

So what’s in a last name? A whole lot as Mike Williams discovers in The Why Factor.

(Image: A mixture of surnames from around the world. BBC Copyright)

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Could your last name determine your career? Mike Williams explains

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 generation to generation. Others stagger under a double barrel as partners perpetuate their own last names through their children and a hyphen.

So what’s in a last name? A whole lot as Mike Williams discovers in The Why Factor.

(Image: A mixture of names from around the world. BBC Copyright)

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Why does movement move us?

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 together creates communities. He hears how Indian Kathak dance connects body and soul, how a Northern Australian society uses dance to blur gender divides, and how watching others dance makes us move too.

Picture: Dancers perform 'Bharatanatyam' on wheelchairs, a classical Indian dance at an event in Bangalore. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

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What is envy and why can it be dangerously destructive or make us strive for success?

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 considered dangerously destructive - can sometimes be a force for good.

(Photo: A baby wanting the gold cup for herself. Credit: Getty Images)

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Why are people racist and judged by the colour of their skin?

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

Today’s ‘Why Factor’ with presenter Jo Fidgeon explores the experience of racism around the world and in different societies and discover the genetics behind race. She finds out about the personal experiences of racism and how it affects peoples’ everyday lives. She also begins to understand how racism is perpetuated through generations and cemented through institutional racism.

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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 astrology and questions why some of us make important life decisions based on our horoscope while others think it is all nonsense.

(Image: Getty)

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Does luck exist and does believing in luck help or hinder us in life?

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, therapist Alexander Anghelou and Cambridge psychologist Mike Aitken. And Mike also visits a casino to meet a reformed gambler.

(Image of a Four Leaf Clover traditionally thought to bring good luck. Credit: Getty)

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What makes snippets of popular songs go round and round in our heads?

What makes snippets of popular songs go round and round in our heads? Mike Williams explains

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 might the wider mental health benefits be of understanding where the mind goes when we let it off the leash?

(Image: Teenager listening to CD’s with headphones on)

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Symmetry is everywhere once you become aware of its presence. Mike Williams reports

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 beauty in it?

Mike Williams talks to the Oxford professor and mathematician, Marcus du Sautoy about the fundamental properties of symmetry; how we are sensitive to the order and simple beauty of symmetry. We hear from New York fashion photographer Alex John Beck about his work on symmetry in faces and why we find symmetrical faces attractive. Plant biologist Dr Paula Rudell explains how bees are also attracted to symmetry in flowers. Lebanese composer and musician Bushra el Turk demonstrates the use of symmetry in music and the pleasures we experience when hearing it.

But there’s another side to symmetry. The danger of symmetry in the mistaken molecular structure used for the drug thalidomide. And isn’t the best thing about symmetry breaking from its strict order and rules?

(Image: Orchids have bilateral symmetry which bees are attracted to for pollination. BBC Copyright)

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Why are we competitive? Is it a natural instinct?

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 overemphasise the importance of competition at the expense of all else?

Jo Fidgen explores why we are so reliant on competition and what it means for our future success. She finds out how hormones affect our competitive behaviour and whether men are always more competitive than women.

Picture: two hurdlers competing against each other at the Shanghai Stadium in China, Credit: Getty Images

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What’s it for and how is it done? With Mike Williams

What’s it for and how is it done? This week 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 and lavish dinners and discover the importance of sandwiches. With Mike Williams.

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Mike Williams asks why the fool or jester has been an important figure in many cultures

– 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 who can speak truth to power.

(Image: Puppet Clowns stored at the Clown’s Church in east London. BBC Copyright)

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Why is making eye contact so important?

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 contact is an essential part of a baby’s development; how it is used to attract a partner and what our eyes give away about us, which is beyond our control.

(Photo: Eyes making contact. Credit: Shutterstock)

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What do our accents say about us? Why do they matter?

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? Jo explores why English sounds different across the globe and takes an accent lesson from a Canadian drama teacher. And did you know some animals have accents too?

Produced by Laura Gray

(Photo: A woman's mouth smiling. Credit: Getty Images)

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What is coincidence and why do we attach meaning to it?

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 numbers?

Produced by Charlotte Pritchard

(Photo of a young woman with her hands over face. Credit: Getty Images)

96The Apology2014071120140712 (WS)
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Why do we say sorry – and what do we really mean by it?

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 can one generation apologise for the actions of another?

Producer: Nina Robinson

(Photo: A banner reading 'Sorry’. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

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has fascinated humans everywhere and for all time. Why? Mike Williams explores the moon in mythology, how it has looked to the Earth-bound and he asks Alan Bean - one of the handful of people who have walked on the moon - what it's really like.

Producer: Richard Knight.

Why has the moon fascinated humans from every culture and for all time?

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.

(Image shows a full moon as seen from the sky at night. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

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Why do we like to gossip – and is it good for us?

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, but it’s big business now and may, Mike Williams explains, even be good for us

Produced by Chris Bowlby

(Image of two girls gossiping to one another. Credit: Science photo library)

98The Walk2014072520140726 (WS)
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Why do we go on long walks? Mike Williams finds out

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 walking to plot his novels.

From the German tradition of the wandern to urban street walking, it seems we’ve always gone on long walks for reasons other than necessity. Why? Mike Williams puts on his walking boots and goes in search of answers.

(Photo: Hikers walk along a path as what remains of the Findelgletscher glacier near Zermatt, Switzerland. Credit: Getty Images)

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Why do people have gardens and do gardening?

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 58 of China’s public gardens, finds out what swimming mice reveal about the secret properties of soil and hears about the extraordinary lengths one man went to create a garden in Guantanamo Bay.

(Image of a Classical Chinese Garden. Credit: Shutterstock)

She talks to the designer of fifty-eight of China’s public gardens, finds out what swimming mice reveal about the secret properties of soil and hears about the extraordinary lengths one man went to to create a garden in Guantanamo Bay.

99The Pilgrimage2014080120140802 (WS)
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Why do we go on pilgrimages?

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. Islam has the Hajj and Christians have walked the same paths for centuries. Others find themselves on a pilgrimage for very different reasons. Mike Williams finds out why.

(Photo: The Grand mosque and the Kaaba in the holy city of Mecca. Pilgrims pelt pillars symbolising the devil with pebbles to show their defiance on the third day of the hajj to mark Eid al-Adha or the Feast of the Sacrifice. Credit: Fayes Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

100The 100th Programme: The Life Of Why2014090520140908 (WS)

Celebrating the 100th edition of The Why Factor

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

100The Life Of Why2014090520140906 (WS)

Celebrating the 100th edition of The Why Factor

In the 100th edition of the Why Factor Mike Williams explores what we’ve learned about our very existence. From teenagers and coming of age to retirement and burial and much more along the way.

Produced by Helena Merriman

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103The Rivals2014092620140927 (WS)
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History’s greatest rivals, and the creative and destructive sides of rivalry

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 given us great sport as well: Hamilton and Rosberg on the race-track today, Evert and Navratilova on the tennis court in the 1970s and 1980s, the Yankees and the Red Sox for more than a century. The rivals have given us whole new industries and music that defines a generation.

What is rivalry? In this episode of the Why Factor we’ll hear about some of history’s greatest rivals from business, technology and sport, and explore the creative and destructive side of one-upmanship.

Produced by Gemma Newby

(Image of a Friendship and Rivalry Justice Scale on a white background. Photo credit: Shutterstock)

104Charisma2014100320141004 (WS)
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Why is it so hard to pin down what we mean by charisma?

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 explores the magnetic appeal of politicians, sports stars and religious leaders. And asks whether it’s possible for people to 'learn' charisma.

Produced by Bob Howard

Image: Hand holds a plasma ball with magenta-blue flames, represents personal magnetism. Photo credit: Shutterstock

105Brands2014101020141011 (WS)
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Why do we place so much trust in brands? And who benefits from them?

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 brands and branding originate from, and why do we place such trust in belief in what they stand for?

Look at every product these days and you’ll see how branding works. From those double golden arches, to that little green fruit, to the small tick that urges us to just do it, everything now is designed in such a way that makes us believe in the power of the product, but why?

Journeying through the history of brands and branding, moving right the way through to the modern day, Mike Williams talks to those involved in branding. Is it an art? Is it a science? Is it a fair relationship, or do marketers have consumers at a disadvantage when it comes to getting us to believe in their product?

Produced by Johny Cassidy

(Image: A man looks at a shop window display as he passes by a clothing store. Photo credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Why do we place so much trust in brands? What are they and who benefits from them?

Look at every product these days and you’ll see how branding works. From those double golden arches, to that little green fruit, to the small tick that urges us to just do it, everything now is architected and designed in such a way that makes us believe in the power of the product, but why?

This weeks Why Factor will try and answer some of those questions. Journeying through the history of brands and branding, moving right the way through to the modern day, Mike Williams will talk to those involved in branding. Is it an art? Is it a science? Is it a fair relationship, or do marketers have consumers at a disadvantage when it comes to getting us to believe in their product?

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Why has Lou Reed's music changed everything? Mike Williams explains

Mike Williams talks to critics, fans, academics and historians to try and explain why Lou Reed's music changed everything.

(Image: Lou Reed performs at the Lollapalooza music festival, in Chicago 2009. Credit: Associated Press)

0102The High Heel20150825

Today's Why Factor investigates the biology of mating, the psychology of status and a lot of gender politics...all encapsulated in a common object worn by women around the world. Why do millions of people choose to walk on strange, stilt like shoes? Join Mike Williams as he practices his catwalk strut in The High Heel.

0103The Watch20150826

Nearly everyone now carries a phone which tells 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 its owner.

0104The Earworm20150827

They can be annoying, infuriating, but what is happening in the head when we hear a piece of music which then refuses to go away? Mike Williams investigates the "sticky song" for The Why Factor.

0105Pilgrimage20150828

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. Islam has the Hajj - a Pilgrimage to Mecca and Christians have walked the same paths for centuries. Many others are eschewing ideas of a "traditional" holiday or break and are seeking some sort of spiritual enlightenment instead. What do they get out of it? Mike Williams asks why the Pilgrimage is getting ever more popular.

Producer: Jim Frank.

0106Nudity20150831

How nakedness has been used as a means of political protest in eastern Europe and why wearing no clothes can be a powerful political weapon.

0107Collecting20150901

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, the pleasure of possession or the control in acting as the custodian of precious things?

Mike Williams talks to an eclectic group of collectors in search of some answers. Roman and Maz Piekarski have spent the last 50 years building up a collection of some of the world's finest cuckoo clocks. When Lisa Courtney was bullied as a child she gained comfort in building her collection of Pokemon toys.Seventeen-year-old Tushar Lakhanpal started his pencil collection at the age of three and when David Fulton sold his business to Microsoft in the 90s his new found wealth allowed him to pursue and acquire one of the finest collections of rare instruments ever assembled.

0108Coming Of Age20150902

Two girls, two stories, two very different outcomes. A party for one... a painful ordeal for another.

Mike Williams asks Why societies around the world, mark a single, special day as the point when childhood ends and adulthood begins?

0109Hair20150903

Why is hair such an important part of who we are?

Each year we spend billions of dollars on cutting, shaping and colouring our hair. It's important for personal, cultural and symbolic reasons.

But why? Find out, as Mike Williams hears the stories of people who have had their hair taken from them.

0110 LASTTies20150904

It's mundane. About 150 centimetres long, often made of satin or silk and worn by millions, mostly by men, every day. Mike Williams explores the enduring appeal of the tie.

It's a paradoxical item of clothing: One the one hand, it expresses a desire to fit in and conform - to belong - yet it also says something about our need to demonstrate our individuality. Historically, wearing a tie has meant many different things: from being seen as being anti-Islamic in the wake of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, to representing subversion and being a symbol of sub-cultural cool.

Producer: Jim Frank.

0201Nostalgia20151102

What is the feeling of nostalgia that so many people experience? Where does it come from, what does it mean and why are we more nostalgic on cold days? Mike Williams speaks to people who know about it and people who've experienced nostalgia.

Presenter: Mike Williams

Producer: Ben Crighton

Editor: Jeremy Skeet.

0202Dolls20151103

Mike Williams ponders why dolls are so universally popular. He discovers that it's not only girls who like dolls, as is commonly assumed. He speaks to people who've studied why dolls are such common playthings and to people who collect them.

Presenter: Mike Williams

Producer: Hannah Moore

Editor: Andrew Smith.

0203Sad Music20151104

Helena Merriman asks why the sad music is often the most popular. She speaks to writers and musicians about a seemingly irresistible cultural phenomenon. Why do we love tales of heartbreak and melancholy set to slow, lilting melody?

Presenter:Helena Merriman

Producer:Helena Merriman

Editor:Jeremy Skeet.

0204T-shirts20151105

T shirts are everywhere, every day. 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 building site and everywhere in between, these simple garments can be tools of the rebel, the protestor, the campaigner, the corporate marketeer. They are strangely powerful things but with humble origins. Mike Williams explores the T shirt. With Omar Mansoor, British Pakistani fashion designer, Tony Glenville, Creative Director, London College of Fashion, designer Milton Glaser, Beatrice Behlan, Museum of London, Steve Tropiano, author of Rebels and chicks - history of the Hollywood teen movie, Maureen Kabrik, campaigner for pressure group "Bring back our girls."

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer:Bob Howard

Editor:Andrew Smith.

0205Commuting20151106

Millions of people across the world get in a car, board a bus or train with monotonous regularity each day. Why do they do it? Can they enjoy it? Can it be good for their health? And what's the connection between the commuter and the hunter-gatherer? Mike Williams aims to find out.

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer:Sonia Rothwell

Editor:Andrew Smith.

0206Graffiti20151109

In large parts of the world, at most times in history, walls in public spaces have been decorated by illicit art. When the public were allowed into the homes of wealthy Romans, graffiti soon began to appear and it was regarded as a weakness to remove it. The modern day graffiti artist risks being arrested and even death, climbing into forbidden premises to spray private buildings or parked subway trains. Why do so many people like making graffiti art?

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer:Rose de Larrabeiti

Editor:Andrew Smith.

0207Diaries20151110

are one of the longest-established and riches sources of social history. Why do many people feel so compelled to keep them? Why do they stop and who do they allow to read them?

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer:Hannah Moore

Editor:Andrew Smith.

0208Gardens20151111

Why are so many people drawn to gardening? Helena Merriman speaks to a neuroscientist who's discovered that soil has some surprising qualities and she hears the extraordinary story of a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay who created his own garden.

Producer: Helena Merriman

Presenter: Helena Merriman

Editor: Andrew Smith.

0209Trainers20151112

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 pounds a year? Especially when 85% of the purchases are never intended for the it's original purpose, health and fitness. Join Mike Williams for the Why Factor: Sneakers.

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer:Julie Ball

Editor:Andrew Smith.

0210 LASTLong-distance Sports Fans20151113

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 says that less than one percent of fans globally will ever watch a game live. While the Premier League is played in England and Wales, almost half of the fans 470 million of them live in Asia and Oceania. Another 260 million follow the game from sub-Saharan Africa. Mike Williams asks why do sports fans do it? With Eric Simons, author of the Secret Life of Sports Fans, Xinjiu Wang, Chinese fan of Swansea City, Stanley Kwanke, BBC Africa, Emily Clarke, fan of the Denver Nuggets, David Goldblatt, Author of The Ball is Round.

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer:Bob Howard

Editor:Andrew Smith.

0301Groupthink20160711

The Why Factor investigates the concept of "Groupthink." How the perceived wisdom of our allies and colleagues can influence our choices and persuade us to make disastrous military decisions, join cults or simply deny the evidence before our very eyes.

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer:Sandra Kanthal

Editor:Andrew Smith

First broadcast on the BBC World Service.

0302Age Of Consent20160712

Mike William investigates the Age of Consent. it used to be 12 in England, it''s currently 14 in italy - less for so-called "Romeo and Juliet" couples who have only three years age difference. The Why Factor explores the real reasons we draw a line on sexual relationships.

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer:Ben Carter

Editor: Andrew Smith

The Why Factor broadcasts weekly on the BBC World Service.

0303Fear Of Robots20160713

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. Mike Williams asks if we have reason to fear the machines we are creating.

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer:Sandra Kanthal

Editor:Andrew Smith

First broadcast on the BBC World Service.

0304Drawing20160714

Lucy Ash asks why we draw. 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 the walls of caves. But why do we draw? Is it to make our mark on the world, to decorate our surroundings, or is it a way of communicating with others when words fail us?

Lucy Ash talks to Stephen Wiltshire, world famous for his incredibly detailed pen and ink cityscapes; to David Hockney renowned for both his traditional draughtsmanship and his enthusiasm for new technology, and to Lizzie Ellis, who comes from a remote community in central Australia and draws with a stick, telling stories through her traditional form of Aboriginal women's art.

Presenter: Lucy Ash

Producer: Arlene Gregorius

Editor: Andrew Smith

First broadcast on the BBC World Service.

0305Cycling20160715

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 its mass appeal?

Author and life-long cyclist Rob Penn, helps us chart the cultural and social impact of the bicycle. From helping to widen the human gene pool to blazing a trail for the women's movement.

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer:Rose de Larrabeiti

Editor:Andrew Smith

The Why Factor is broadcast weekly on the BBC World Service.

0306Time Perception20160718

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" and John McCarthy, a British journalist taken hostage in Lebanon in 1986.

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer:Bob Howard

Editor; Andrew Smith

First broadcast on the BBC World Service.

0307Conspiracy Theories20160719

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 should Governments react to the people who doubt them? Or are they in fact critical in our attempts to hold Governments to account?

Mike Williams talks to a psychologist, a Professor of Political Science and a conspiracy theorist as he attempts to separate fact from fiction.

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer: Ben Carter

Editor:Andrew Smith

(Photo: Conspiracy word cloud concept, with abstract background. Credit to Shutterstock).

0308Magicians20160720

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 the psychology of the magicians themselves is as interesting as the psychology of the audience. So what is in the mind of a magician?

Presenter:Mike Williams

Producer: Ben Carter

Editor:Andrew Smith

First broadcast on the BBC World Service.

0309Addiction20160721

Mike Williams investigates the biochemistry of the brain's reward system in an effort to detect the cause of addiction. How can things which initially bring such pleasure become such a destructive force? something that's start off being pleasurable end up making us feel so low? Mike Williams talks to scientists and former addicts who speak frankly as he searches for some answers.

Presenter: Mike Williams

Producer:Ben Carter

Editor:Andrew Smith

First broadcast on the BBC World Service.

0310 LASTThe Circus20160722

From clowns to tight-rope walkers, fire-eaters to elephant trainers, the modern circus has been around for centuries. But why does it still appeal in the modern age? Mike Williams explores the origins of the circus and asks why, in a world of screens, video streaming and TV-on-demand, the circus continues to delight adults and children around the globe. Mike visits the Moscow State Circus, hears from a clown with Cirque Du Soleil and talks to a lion trainer with the biggest animal act in the world. There's thrills, spills, fun and fear.

Presenter: Mike Williams

Producer: Sally Abrahams

Editor: Andrew Smith

First broadcast on the BBC World Service.