Why Factor, The

Episodes

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2016100720161010 (WS)

The extraordinary and hidden histories behind everyday objects and actions

Addiction: Why Do Some People Succumb To It?2016021920160222 (WS)

Why does pleasure and desire lead to addiction in some people but not others?

What happens when the biochemistry of the brain’s pleasure and reward system goes wrong? How can something that starts off being pleasurable end up making us feel so low? Mike Williams talks to scientists and former addicts to search for some answers to the power of addiction.

(Photo: Collection of different hard drugs heroin, pills, tobacco and alcohol. Credit: Shutterstock)

Age Of Consent2016012220160125 (WS)

Why does the age of consent for homosexual relationships differ?

The age of consent is the age at which a person is considered by law to be capable of agreeing to sex. It is just a number, but a number which varies greatly around the world. It is bound up with child protection, notions of honour and marriage, and concerns about paedophilia and society’s strange obsession with lust.

Mike Williams asks whether the broad range of ages implies the number is simply a social construct or if it is based on any hard and fast scientific evidence.

For much of history, laws have regulated relationships between women and men, girls and boys but why does the age of consent for homosexual relationships differ?

(Photo: Cartoon graphics of two hands with question marks on a red background, asking yes or no)

Assisted Death2016093020161003 (WS)

Is it ever right to take a life? Mike Williams explores the dilemmas of assisted death.

Is it ever right to take a life? Mike Williams explores the ethical dilemmas of assisting death.

In a few countries, terminally-ill people — suffering pain and distress — are allowed to get help from friends, family and physicians to bring their lives to an end. In many countries, it’s a crime.

Helping someone to kill themselves is illegal in the UK but there are attempts to get the law revised. The rules are most liberal in Belgium where, recently, a 17 year old boy became the first minor to be granted help with dying. And, in the United States, California has become the fifth state to approve what they’ve called “physician assisted death”.

Presenter: Mike Williams

Producer: Ben Carter and Kara Digby

(IMAGE: Woman touching elderly man's hand. Credit: Arman Zhenikeyev/Shutterstock)

Attraction2016062420160627 (WS)

Why are we attracted to some people and to not others? Mike Williams explores the factors that lie behind our feelings of attraction. He speaks to the authors Christy and Clare Campbell. Christy fell in love at first sight, but it took Clare six months to feel that strong sense of attraction. After 40 years of marriage they are still attracted to each other.

Beauty, facial symmetry, personality and values all play a role in our attraction to others. Evolution biologist Dr Anna Machin from Oxford University explains the science behind attraction. Dr Machin explains how chemicals released in our brains gives us the confidence to approach someone who we are attracted to and how the smell and taste of a prospective partner can tell us a lot of their genes and whether they will be a compatible mate.

(Photo: A couple gazing at each other. Credit: Shutterstock)

Why are we attracted to some people and not to others?

Conspiracy Theory2016030420160307 (WS)

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.

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

The Why Factor asks why some people believe in conspiracy theories and whether it matters.

Copying Art2016061020160613 (WS)

Why do people try to create old masters and modern art, brush stroke by brush stroke? And, why do people buy them? He talks to art copier David Henty, fine art expert and gallery owner Philip Mould, Paul Dong a Beijing based art auctioneer, Colette Loll founder and director of the Washington-based Art Fraud Insights and art copy customer Patricia Burns from Canada.

(Photo: A copy of Pablo Picasso's The Weeping Woman painted by David Henty, courtesy of the artist D.Henty)

Why do people copy famous works of art and who buys them?

Dolly, Dylan Or Daft Punk2016042320160424 (WS)

Pop, Blues, RnB, Hip Hop, Folk, Reggae, Metal - why do we like the music that we like? As part of the Identity Season, BBC Radio 1 presenter Gemma Cairney asks why we listen to the music we do. What is the importance of music in forming an identity in adolescence, be it a social identity, a gender identity or another group identity? In a world where the internet gives us access to what everyone else is listening to – what does what’s on our playlist say about us?

Do record companies and media outlets dictate what music we end up listening to, or are they led by audiences’ preferences? Singers, songwriters, radio DJs and music experts explain how the recipe for international success in the music industry has changed over the years. Although the popular music charts and radio playlists can give an indication of what people like to listen to, streaming has become an increasingly popular way to listen to music, and the data behind the streams reveals nuanced listening habits among different cities and age groups.

This documentary includes lively interviews with international stars, record industry experts, academics and music writers providing a range of perspectives on our diverse musical tastes. Gemma will speak to music fans in different parts of the world, asking them why they choose the music they do, and how it shapes their identity. The programme is filled with a rich variety of music, both recorded and live performances, from the Lollapalooza festival in Chile to the haunting sounds of Iceland.

Produced by Flora Carmichael and Peter Snowdon

(Photo: Gemma Cairney in Reykjavik exploring Iceland’s unique musical identity)

Gemma Cairney explores our eclectic tastes in music and where those tastes come from

Driving2016072920160801 (WS)

Why do we love driving? Mike Williams asks if we would miss driving, as auto-piloted cars are tested in cities around the world. He talks to Dr Lisa Dorn, psychologist and associate professor of driver behaviour, Dr Zia Wadud an associate professor in transport studies, technology reporter Brian Fung, racing team owner Eddie Jordan and top gear presenter Sabine Schmitz.

(Photo: White driverless car on road. Credit:Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images)

As auto-piloted cars begin tests Mike Williams asks if we will miss driving

Fanfiction2016032520160328 (WS)

A pregnant Captain Kirk gives birth on the Enterprise, Harry Potter and his rival Draco Malfoy fall in love and you take a starring role in your favourite book, film or TV show. Seems unlikely? With fanfiction any of this - and more - becomes possible.

Fanfiction is a global phenomenon with amateur writers creating new stories in the existing fictional worlds of their most loved films, TV shows and books. For many it is an obsession – but why do they do it? And, how do the writers whose works are taken on by the fanfiction community feel about it?

It is not for the money; fanfiction is a non-commercial pursuit, although some writers do make the transition from amateur to published author. The most famous example of this is E.L. James, whose blockbuster book 50 Shades of Grey, started out as fanfiction based on the Vampire inspired Twilight series. Chilean author Francisca Solar tells us how her own Harry Potter fanfiction landed her a book contract.

But turning pro is not the goal for most ‘fanfic’ writers; it is the freedom to play with their most loved characters in a uniquely creative world, with very few limits.

(Photo: A black and white picture of Captain Kirk and Mr Spock credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

What is fanfiction and who writes it?

Fear Of Animals2016081220160815 (WS)

Why do we still fear animals that pose no serious threat to us and how can the effect of that irrational fear be so overpowering? As Mike Williams discovers in this week’s Why Factor, the answers lie deep in our evolutionary past and deep inside our brains.

Mike faces his own animal fear at London Zoo, where we also meet people overcoming their fear of spiders. Arachnophobia is one of the most common animal phobias and American Psychologist Joshua New’s research suggests humans are better at identifying and locating spiders than any other perceived threat. Could our fear of spiders be a leftover from our evolutionary ancestors?

Neuroscientist Dr Dean Burnett reveals what happens in our brains when we’re frightened by animals, and this is not always by the traditional spider or snake. We hear from a woman in Greece who has a rather surprising animal phobia…

Presenter: Mike Williams

Producer: Rose de Larrabeiti

Film clip: 1984 (1984) Umbrella-Rosenblum Films Production. Director: Michael Radford

Image: A tarantula spider. Credit : Credit: Miguel Rojo/Getty Images

What lies behind our often overwhelming fear of harmless animals?

Fear Vs Fact2016080520160808 (WS)

Mike Williams asks if we now live in a post-factual age — where messages of fear dominate and the truth goes unspoken or unheard? He investigates the “Backfire Effect? which means that entrenched views can become more entrenched – when confronted by contradictory facts. Politicians are often accused of distorting the truth – with Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump the latest.

(Image - Group of people standing with one holding a newspaper with the headline "Earth Doomed". Credit - Everett Collection via Shutterstock)

Are we living in an age where messages of fear dominate and the truth goes unheard?

Graffiti: Why Do We Do It?2015100220151003 (WS)
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Graffiti is both an ancient and modern activity, but why do we do it?

From Stone Age caves, to the buildings of Pompeii and on the walls of our modern cities we find evidence of a very human – and ancient – urge to leave a mark. Why? Mike Williams joins the artists at a Graffiti competition held in London and talks to Art Historian Richard Clay, professor of Digital Humanities at Newcastle University.

This still illegal activity has gained a more acceptable face in the growth and popularity of street art, but in many countries, graffiti writers still risk their lives to paint political messages on public walls. Researcher Rana Jarbou has been documenting Graffiti in the Arab World since 2007. She reveals the role it has played in the war in Syria.

Graffiti can be political and artistic, but sometimes it is as simple as scratching names and love hearts into desks. For four years Quinn Dombrowski took photographs of the Graffiti left on the study desks of The University of Chicago’s Library. The scrawled messages are an insight into the emotional lives of the students there.

Finally, back in London at the Graffiti competition, Mike picks up a spray-can and has a go himself.

(Photo: The letters TWF graffiti sprayed on a wall. Credit: Mike Williams)

Group Thinking2015122520151228 (WS)

Why do we succumb to 'Groupthink' and how do we overcome the urge to be part of a crowd

Anyone who has ever been in a meeting has seen the phenomenon of "Groupthink" first hand. The will of the crowd over shadows the wisdom of individuals and it can lead to dangerous consequences. Mike Williams asks why humans succumb to "Groupthink" and how we fight the tendency to follow the herd even if it leads to very perilous outcomes.

(Photo: A meeting. Credit: Shutterstock)

How America Sees Itself2016042220160425 (WS)

What are notions of national identity and how does it arise? We look at probably the most powerful country on the planet - the United States of America. What is its character? And what do Americans see when they look at themselves. Mike Williams travels around the States to uncover the ideology involved in being an American.

(Photo: The Statue of Liberty. Credit: Timothy A.Clary/AFP /Getty Images)

How America's sense of national identity is perceived by the American people

How The Rest Of The World Sees America2016042920160502 (WS)

What does the world see when it looks towards America?

Mike Williams asks what the rest of the world thinks of the United States, one of the most recognisable nations on the planet. This is the second part of a programme looking into the concepts of identity for the BBC World Service's Identity season.

(Photo: The American Flag. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Hunting2016010120160104 (WS)

Why do we hunt? Why kill animals when we no longer need to do so to eat?

Why do we hunt? In some societies hunting is necessary to get food, but why do those who can buy meat in a shop go out hunting? Do they like to kill? Or is there something else at play? Lucy Ash talks to hunters from Canada, South Africa, the US and Scotland, who between them have killed animals ranging from deer to elephants, to ask them why they do it.

She finds out that the majority of hunters don’t actually like the act of killing, but hunt because they enjoy the adrenaline-fuelled tracking, or being out in nature with heightened senses, or simply to provide for their families in a way they find much more satisfying than simply buying meat in a grocery store. And then there are some reasons that go deeper.

(Photo: A hunter with this dog and a deer)

Hypocrisy: Why Do People Often Say One Thing And Do Another?2016010820160111 (WS)

Is hypocrisy part of the human condition?

Do as I say, not as I do. No-one likes a hypocrite, and we like being accused of hypocrisy even less. Yet most of us are hypocritical to some degree. So why do we profess one thing but do another? How far is hypocrisy part of the human condition? And what would a world be like without it? Mike Williams presenting.

Produced by Ben Crighton

(Photo: Hypocrisy Sign. Credit to Shutterstock)

Identity2016040120160404 (WS)

The Why Factor examines one simple question: Who are you?

As part of the BBC World Service Season on Identity, The Why Factor examines one simple question: Who are you? Did you choose your identity or was it given to you? Mike Williams asks how our identities are created and if that shapes the way we see the world, and the way the world sees us.

(Crowds on Oxford Street, London UK. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty)

Impersonators: Why Do People Pretend To Be Someone Else?2016012920160201 (WS)

Impersonators, imposters, con-artists and entertainers – those people who pretend to be who they are not. Some do it for financial gain, some to pay tribute to a music icon and some simply to raise a laugh. But what happens when people start to believe their own stories, start to believe their fantasy life is real? It is mainly men who pose as police officers, soldiers, special forces: figures with a badge, a uniform, some aura of authority. Mike Williams explores what motivates people to be somebody they are not.

(Photo: David Boakes impersonating Michael Jackson. Credit to Mike Williams)

Examining the world of the Impersonators, con-artists and entertainers

Life, Liberty And The American Identity2016043020160501 (WS)

What is the American Identity and why is it a portrait recognized around the world?

As part of the BBC World Service “Identity? season The Why Factor explores how the one of the fundamental tenets of our personal make up, our national identity.

Few countries have a stronger sense of themselves than the United States of America and few are so strongly drawn in the minds of people right across the world. The ubiquity of McDonalds, America’s unflinching patriotism and loyalty to the flag, the country’s foreign military interventions, sometimes disastrous, other times not, its religious devotion and its long drawn out, highly public elections, all form part of the uniquely American character.

In this documentary, Mike Williams asks what makes up the identity of an American. At Ellis Island in New York, he will explore the setting which greeted generations of European immigrants who made the country a melting pot. He will visit the Alamo in Texas and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. to draw on America’s myths and legends and ask how a unique devotion to the Constitution has evolved into a devout and demonstrative patriotism which seems ubiquitous in all walks of life. And, he will look at the ever present issues of race and wealth and ask if they still determine the identity each citizen has placed upon them.

(Image: Crowds at the Veterans Day ceremony in Washington DC/ Credit: Win McNamee/Getty)

US National Anthem sung by Lady Antebellum at the 2010 Sugar Bowl

Loneliness2016061720160620 (WS)

What is loneliness and why do we feel it? Why do some people feel lonely when surrounded by people and others never feel lonely at all. Mike Williams finds out why feeling lonely can help us to survive.

Feelings of loneliness do not only come from the position we can sometimes find ourselves in. Studies of twins in Holland have shown that loneliness has a hereditary element. And surprisingly loneliness can also be contagious.

Mike speaks to the Chinese artist Li Tianbing about how growing up under China’s one child policy shaped his art and to a Swedish entrepreneur who invited 11 people to come and live with her to combat her loneliness.

(Photo: Woman alone on a bridge. Credit: Shutterstock)

What is loneliness and why do we feel it?

Magicians: Inside Their Minds2016031120160314 (WS)

Who are the magicians and why do they enjoy performing for us?

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

(Photo: A magician performs card tricks with the help of his assistant. Credit: Getty Images)

Newspapers2016070820160711 (WS)

Free, digital news is threatening traditional newspapers around the world, so why do they survive and what is their future? Mike Williams speaks to legendary newspaper editor Sir Harry Evans and journalist in exile Qaabata Boru who fought to set up an independent newspaper in a Kenyan refugee camp.

Mike also hears from Melody Martinsen who owns and edits The Choteau Acantha, a tiny newspaper in rural Montana where not even the premature birth of her son stopped publication.

And at the British Library’s newspaper archive, Mike learns how, as chronicles of ordinary people’s lives, newspapers can throw up some surprise stories missed by the history books.

(Image: Early edition of the Daily Mirror spread on table. Credit: Image courtesy of the British Library)

Digital news is threatening newspapers, so why do they survive and what is their future?

Pleasure: Why We Like The Things We Like2016021220160215 (WS)

Why do we like the things that we like? At the root of it is 3, 4 -Dihydroxyphenethylamine - or Dopamine - a chemical produced by the nerve cells in the brain to signal to others. But as Mike Williams finds out our pleasure circuit can be triggered by some obvious and not so obvious things.

(Photo: a young woman listens to music on headphones. Credit to Shutterstock)

The science of pleasure and why we like the things that we like

Radio Requests2016041520160418 (WS)

When there are so many ways in the world we can listen to music, why does getting your request played on a radio station feel universally so special and exciting? Gemma Cairney speaks to music fans and radio stations from Mexico to Myanmar. They tell us why a request can bring so many people together and sometimes leave even listeners and DJs in tears.

And, we find out how radio stations across the world are finding new ways to allow song requests to interact with their audiences and keep them tuning in.

(Photo: Country cowboys in Uganda. Photo Credit: Will Boase)

Music fans and radio stations from Mexico to Myanmar explain the appeal of radio requests

Safe Space2016060320160606 (WS)

The ideal university experience is expected to train the minds of students by exposing them to new ideas and challenging their assumptions. Why then, in the English speaking west at least, are some students rebelling against this principle by insisting there are some ideas which are so abhorrent they should not be heard? To them a university should be a safe space. In this edition of the Why Factor, Mike Williams tries to discover where the balance lies between freedom of speech and protection from offence and asks what exactly is a safe space?

Producer: Sandra Kanthal

Image: Students sharing space on campus (Credit: Rawpixel/ Shutterstock)

Mike Williams asks what exactly is a safe space?

Statues: Why We Put People On Pedestals2016050620160509 (WS)

To some statues pay homage to gods, to others they are attempts at immortalising man

For thousands of years mankind has erected pillars of public art. Statues exist across almost every culture. To some they pay homage to gods, to others they are attempts at immortalising man. Their toppling has become a symbol of regime change. They are worshipped and prayed to, idolised and in some cases despised. They are a unique art form that has seemingly never gone out of vogue.

Lucy Ash explores the significance of these sculptures and speaks to Jasleen Kaur, a young artist whose art examines if history can be retold through art. In the UK, the Oxford University campaign to remove a statue of the controversial figure, Cecil Rhodes, has sparked a passionate debate around the way we view the past. In South Korea, she speaks to protest sculptors whose statue of a little girl outside of the Japanese embassy in Seoul almost derailed a 10-year Korean-Japanese relations agreement.

Lucy examines why societies insist on placing its people on pedestals. What are the motivations behind the commissioning of statues? And, what sentiment can they project onto a population? Why have the building of statues become pet projects for the politically powerful? And, can culture be exported across borders and can any statue really stand the test of time?

(Photo: Kim Seo-kyung (left) and Kim Eun-sung (right) sculptors of the 'Comfort Women' statue)

Supernatural Powers2016031820160321 (WS)

Mike Williams asks why supernatural beliefs have such a hold over different societies

Juju, Evu, Witchcraft, the evil eye, Voodoo, black magic. There are many names for beliefs that supernatural forces can be harnessed by people who are out to cause harm. Harm to someone’s health, finances, relationships, even their political ambitions. Mike Williams asks why these beliefs still appear to have such a strong hold across different societies, crossing boundaries of wealth and education. And why some attempts to combat these “evil forces? might help in reinforcing fear in them. He speaks to Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku, anthropologists Dr Hermione Harris and Peter Geschiere, Line Mariani Playfair and campaigner Vicky Ntetema.

Produced by Bob Howard

(Photo: Human skull on a book next to the clock. Concept of black magic. Credit: Shutterstock)

Talking About Death2015082120150822 (WS)
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It’s something that will come to all of us. So why is it so hard to talk about death?

Mike Williams meets a British doctor facing her own mortality and another in India who wrestles with telling her patients the bad news.

Produced by Smita Patel

(Photo: Four gravestones in a graveyard. Credit: Shutterstock)

The Voice2016090220160905 (WS)

What do our voices reveal about ourselves?

We each have a unique voice, shaped by our biology, history, class and education. It is a powerful tool and we are often judged by the very first words out of our mouths.

Mike Williams discovers what makes one voice trustworthy and another not. We hear from a voice coach about how we can adapt and deceive with our voices and a vocalist demonstrates the power of the voice as an instrument.

We also hear from an American teenager who has been voiceless since birth but whose personalised computerised voice has enabled her to find her own.

Audio clip of Elaine Mitchener, taken from Focus (2012) by Sam Belinfante, courtesy of The Wellcome Collection.

(Photo: Woman singing into microphone. Credit: Shutterstock)

Thin2016052720160530 (WS)

Mike Williams asks why so many people want to be thin in a world grappling with obesity.

For thousands of years, a thin body was a sign of poverty or disease. But there is now a growing, global obsession with being thin. And this at a time when many populations around the world are, paradoxically, suffering epidemics of obesity. Mike Williams finds out why, as he speaks to former French model Victoire Macon Dauxerre, Tony Glenville from the London College of Fashion, Anne Becker from Harvard Medical School, Professor John Speakman from University of Aberdeen and Etta Edim from Nigeria’s Efik tribe.

Image: A vendor arranges stick-thin mannequins in a store in China (Credit: China Photos/Getty Images)

Time Perception2016051320160516 (WS)

Mike Williams asks why some weeks just fly by but sometimes minutes can seem like hours?

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; David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine at Houston and John McCarthy, a British journalist taken hostage in Lebanon in 1986.

(Photo: Hands of a clock over female silhouette. Credit: Shutterstock)

Tutoring2015111320151116 (WS)

Why is private tutoring becoming so commonplace? In London it is estimated that 50% of schoolchildren have a tutor at some point. In Hong Kong, that figure is much higher. What impact does tutoring have education systems around the world? And does it entrench inequality? Mike Williams hears from academics, tutors and the students they teach.

(Photo: School teacher and student high five in a classroom. Credit: Shutterstock)

Why is private tutoring becoming so commonplace? And what impact does it have?

Violence2016072220160725 (WS)

Why are men more violent than women?

Anybody who watched the European Championships of football this summer in France would have seen shocking scenes of violence between fans. The vast majority, if not all, were men. Men also commit more than 90% of murders across the world and are more likely to join a gang.

Why are men more violent than women? Caroline Bayley speaks to ex-football hooligan Cass Pennant about his experiences and motivation when violence became his way of life. Former British Army officer Jane Middleton explains the differences between men and women on the battlefield when she served in Afghanistan. And, Caroline also hears views from Sweden about how equal violence between men and women in relationships is.

(Photo: Group of football fans fighting in street. Credit: Carl Court/Getty Images)

What Makes Us Want To Wear T-shirts?2015112020151123 (WS)

They’re something you probably see every day… maybe hundreds of them, thousands. 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.

Produced by Bob Howard

(Photo: Man wearing a T-Shirt with President Vladimir Putin crossed out in red at a protest in Barcelona. Credit: Getty Images)

Mike Williams asks why these simple garments are so appealing

Why Are We Afraid Of Robots?2016052020160523 (WS)

They help us in homes, hospitals and factories, so do we have reason to fear robots?

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. In the Why Factor this week, Mike Williams asks if we have reason to fear the machines we are creating.

Insert: “I, Robot? 2004 Twentieth Century Fox. Director Alex Proyas, based on story by Isaac Asimov

Insert: "Astro Boy"- Ep.1: The Birth Of Astro Boy (in English) © Nippon Television 1982

(Photo: Robots in Suits © Shutterstock)

Why Are We Getting Smarter2016071520160718 (WS)

Mike Williams examines the Flynn Effect and finds out why we are all getting smarter.

For many decades now we’ve been getting smarter. All across the planet average IQ results have been rising… by about 3 points every ten years. It’s called the Flynn Effect and it’s changing our societies. So what is it? What causes it? And what could be the consequences if — as seems possible — it goes into reverse.

(Image : Woman and man standing back to back with think bubbles. Copyright - Racorn/Shutterstock)

Why Can’t Some People Eat Certain Foods?2015110620151109 (WS)

Why are food allergies increasing in the rich world?

In some countries, about 10% of their population suffers from a food allergy. What is going on? And why do an increasing number of people believe they have an allergy when they don’t? Mike Williams asks how the food industry has responded to this growing fear of food and whether developing nations will end up with the same levels of affliction.

Produced by Rosamund Jones

(Photo: Food restrictions written in chalk on a blackboard, gluten, nut and dairy. Credit: Shutterstock)

Why Do Crazes Take Off?20160919

What explains the success of the Hula-Hoop, Rubik’s Cube and Pokemon Go?

Pokemon Go has been the runaway success of the summer but why is it that some games, hobbies and activities become crazes while others do not? Is there a secret formula? Johanna Basford, the illustrator behind the current adult colouring book craze and Cheong Choon Ng, who invented the Rainbow Loom, explain how they managed to get their ideas off the ground and loved by millions.

We hear from psychologist Ben Michaelis that insecure people are more likely to engage with crazes than people who have a lot of self-confidence. Matthew Alt, co-founder of Alt Japan, a company which produces English versions of Japanese games, explains why so many childhood crazes of the last 30 years including Transformers, Power Rangers, Tamagotchi and Pokemon started in Japan.

Presenter Aasmah Mir also takes a trip down memory lane, trying out hula-hooping at a class in London after enthusiastically abandoning the fad 30 years earlier. Is she any better now? Hula-Hoop teacher and performer Anna Byrne explains why the craze is making a comeback.

But not all fads are harmless fun. Sometimes playground crazes can go wrong and have devastating consequences. Sabrina Lippell talks openly about the tragic death of her twelve-year-old son William Stanesby after he took part in the so-called ‘choking game’ that encourages participants to restrict their airways.

(Photo: A hand holds a phone showing a Pokémon character on screen. Credit:JoeyPhoto/Shutterstock)

Why Do Humans Need So Much Space?2015091120150912 (WS)
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Why do we have such a complicated relationship with the space we live in?

Some of us are content to surrender our personal space to serve on a submarine, while some of us struggle with claustrophobia. As we become more urban and the global population increases, we have to get used to having less space but some architects say we need more of it because it boosts our sense of wellbeing. Why do we have such a complicated relationship with the space we live in?

(Photo: Dense cityscape of office buildings in Hong Kong and China. Credit: Shutterstock)

Why Do People Sacrifice Their Lives?2015082820150829 (WS)
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Why do people give their lives for a nation? For a cause?

As the world marks the centenary of the First World War, bereaved families reflect on the sacrifices made by their loved ones. What is the true nature of modern sacrifice?

Presented by Mike Williams

Produced by Ben Crighton

(Photo: Poppies pegged on a wall bearing the names of soldiers who lost their lives in World War One. Credit: Philippe Huguen/AFP/GettyImages)

Why Do Pet Videos Go Viral?2016081920160822 (WS)

The Why Factor is about our pets on the internet. Those viral videos of our cats stalking us or the dogs saying I love you. Why have cats become celebrities and why do we love to watch and follow them on social media? Mike Williams meets the cat at the top of the viral video tree; the one and only Grumpy Cat with twelve million followers, her owners and business managers are just trying to keep up with all her fans. Assistant Professor Jessica Gall Myrick from Indiana University, conducted an online survey of some 7000 cat video watchers and found that people felt happier watching them and were less likely to feel anxious or sad. With all that happiness around, the creator of NyanCat – an animated cat flying through space with a rainbow trail and catchy tune to match, has a mind-boggling 133 million views last time Chris Torres checked. He tells The Why Factor why he thinks it has been such a viral sensation. We also talk to Jason Eppink, curator of a recent exhibition at the Museum of Moving Image in New York on ‘How Cats Took Over The Internet’. Then there is a serious side to all this cat, dog, chicken and goat watching online. Anh Xiao Mina – a writer and researcher has been looking at the growth of ‘cute cat digital activism’ – the theory that pet viral videos are teaching us important lessons about what we can say and do online and could, in the future, be used to promote new social movements.

Presented by Mike Williams

Produced by Nina Robinson

(IMAGE:Grumpy Cat at the BBC, Nina Robinson - BBC Copyright)

The strange success of pets on the internet. Why?

Why Do We Find Some Voices Irritating?20160912

Why is it that we find some voices more annoying than others?

On the last episode of The Why Factor Mike Williams explored the human voice in all of its unique power and beauty; this week we investigate its unique ability to irritate and annoy.

We all have our personal bugbears when it comes to irritating voices: nasal, monotone, high-pitched or certain types of accent; but why do certain types of voice wind us up so much? And does that irritation reveal more about the speaker or about ourselves?

Neuro-biologist Professor Sophie Scott and linguists Rob Drummond and Rob Pensalfini help us to decipher whether there is anything intrinsically annoying about certain sounds or whether it is all about social conditioning: our own biases and prejudices.

Are irritating voices the same the world over? Why does the Australian accent get picked on? And what is vocal fry?

Finally, what if it is your voice that everyone hates? Mike talks to Laura Ashby, a contestant on the US game show Jeopardy! Whose voice led to a social media meltdown and to her receiving death threats.

Presenter: Mike Williams

Producer: Rose de Larrabeiti

(IMAGE: B/W image of boy with fingers in his ears and girl leaning on his shoulder. Credit: Dennis Oulds/Getty Images)

Credits for clips used:

American Pie (1999) Universal Pictures. Director: Paul Weitz

Comedian Adam Hills, Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala 2006

Jeopardy! Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

Fresh Air presented by Terry Gross from WHYY/NPR

This American Life presented by Ira Glass from WBEZ/NPR

The Vocal Fry Guys courtesy of Ann Heppermann

UP (2009) Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios. Director: Pete Docter

Why Do We Have Human Rights?2015090420150905 (WS)
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Where do Human Rights come from and how are they used?

The UN proclaimed its Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, after the horrors of World War Two. But they are far from universally upheld. Yecenia Armenta Graciano’s right not to be tortured was grievously violated in Mexico, when she was beaten, suffocated and sexually assaulted to sign a confession.

Yet Human Rights are being used in an increasingly wide range of legal cases, whether to force governments to provide food for the poor, or to cut CO2 emissions to help avert climate change. So what are they, how are they evolving, and what if one person’s human right clashes with that of another?

Mike Williams talks to philosopher and law professor John Tasioulas of Kings College London; international law scholar and former UN rapporteur Philip Alston; Dutch lawyer Dennis van Berkel of the environmentalist organisation Urgenda; and India Supreme Court lawyer and human rights campaigner Vrinda Grover.

(Photo: Yecenia spent three years in prison since she was tortured to sign a confession for a crime she says she didn’t commit. Credit: Amnesty International)

Why Do We Love Dolls?2015092520150926 (WS)
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They are human and inanimate, beautiful yet disturbing; made for children but collected by adults. From the rag dolls of Ancient Egypt to the mass produced plastic fashion dolls of today, they have existed in almost every culture. Traditionally, they have been used to teach young girls to dress well and look after others. So are they still relevant in a world where women are taking on different roles in the home and the workplace?

Mike Williams meets collectors from Syria and Switzerland. He looks at the evidence that playing with dolls develops children’s social skills, and hears how a South African maker was told ‘black dolls will never sell’ in her country.

Produced by Hannah Moore

(Photo: Dolls faces. Credit: V&A Museum)

Despite all the new entertainments on offer, dolls endure. Why?

Why Do We Love The Bicycle?2015103020151102 (WS)

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.

‘It’s like learning to ride a bike’ is a common phrase across the globe for ‘once learned, never forgotten’. But what does this suggest about the human body and cycling? Many people describe it as meditative and calming, but what if cycling could actually have a therapeutic effect on those suffering from serious medical conditions?

Dr Jay Alberts works at the Center of Neurological Restoration at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, USA, and has recently been looking into the impact of cycling on the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease patients. We hear about his surprising results.

Finally, in the West cycling has become more of a lifestyle choice than a means of transport, but what about in countries like India? We hear from a hardy cyclist who regularly braves the streets of Old Delhi.

(Photo: Cycling guide Arpita Sinha leading a bike tour through the streets, and ditches of Delhi, India)

How did the bicycle change the world?

Why Do We Love The Bicycle?2016070120160704 (WS)

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.

‘It’s like learning to ride a bike’ is a common phrase across the globe for ‘once learned, never forgotten’. But what does this suggest about the human body and cycling? Many people describe it as meditative and calming, but what if cycling could actually have a therapeutic effect on those suffering from serious medical conditions?

Dr Jay Alberts works at the Center of Neurological Restoration at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, USA, and has recently been looking into the impact of cycling on the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease patients. We hear about his surprising results.

Finally, in the West cycling has become more of a lifestyle choice than a means of transport, but what about in countries like India? We hear from a hardy cyclist who regularly braves the streets of Old Delhi.

(Photo: Cycling guide Arpita Sinha leading a bike tour through the streets, and ditches of Delhi, India)

This programme was originally broadcast on 02 Nov 2015.

How did the bicycle change the world?

Why Do We Make Lists?2015121820151221 (WS)

Lists of things to do and things to buy. Presents we want for Christmas, or things we desire in a lover. Lists help us organise our thoughts and bring order to a confusing world. But what do they reveal about us?

(Photo: An original Madonna handwriten 1990 'to do' diary. Credit: Henry S. Dziekan III/Getty Images)

From shopping lists to to-do lists – why do we make lists and what do they say about us?

Why Do We Need Diaries?2015081420150815 (WS)
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We trust them with our deepest secrets, and use them to preserve our memories. They’ve been hidden, destroyed, and read without permission. Mike Williams talks to people who write diaries, and the historians on a mission to "rescue" the diaries of normal people.

Produced by Hannah Moore

(Photo: A handwritten page from a diary. Credit: Mike Williams)

They hold our secrets, and preserve our memories, but why do we need diaries?

Why Do We Support Sports Clubs?2015101620151017 (WS)
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Why do sports fans follow club teams, even when they may live thousands of miles away?

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 say that less than 1% 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. Mike Williams explains why sports fans do it.

(Photo: Sports fans pictured during a football match waving their flags. Credit: Getty Images)

Why Do We Want Or Need Heroes?2016011520160118 (WS)

On the Why Factor this week, Angie Hobbs asks why do we want or need heroes? What constitutes a heroic act? Is it something you set out to do, or something you don’t choose, but live up to when it’s thrust upon you? And why do societies celebrate heroism? Professor Hobbs talks to people who’ve been hailed as heroes: Colonel Tim Collins who gave a much praised eve-of-battle speech to his troops as they were about to enter Iraq in 2003, Justin Oliphant who tackles gang violence in South Africa and Dame Ellen MacArthur who broke the record for solo round the world sailing. Angie also hears from experts on heroism: psychologist professor Alice Eagly of Northwestern University, historian Sir Max Hastings and MP and explorer Rory Stewart.

Produced by Arlene Gregorius and Jessica Treen

(Photo of a helicopter rescue. Credit: IStock)

Angie Hobbs asks why do we want or need heroes?

Why Do We Wear Skirts?2015121120151214 (WS)

It’s a simple item of dress but one that says much about the societies in which we live. Mike Williams looks at this most basic form of dress the skirt. A rectangle cloth which throughout centuries has been associated with great meaning including women’s liberation and their oppression, politics and gender.

The programme includes an interview with Jung Chang, author of the bestselling “Wild Swans?, who describes how the skirt was a dangerous thing to wear during the cultural revolution.

Produced by Smita Patel

(Photo: Woman wears a polkadot skirt on a green background. Credit: Shutterstock). Credit: Shutterstock)

Author Jung Chang explains how the skirt was dangerous during the cultural revolution

Why Do We Wear Suits?2015112720151130 (WS)

The suit, it’s survived for the three centuries. But what’s its appeal?

It’s a style of dress that’s spread around the world - the suit. It’s survived, largely unchanged, for the three centuries. But, where does it come from, what’s its appeal and what does it say about those who wear it? Mike Williams talks to fashion designer Paul Smith who wears one every day and to the author Jung Chang who had no choice but to follow suit during the Cultural Revolution in China.

Produced by Smita Patel

(Photo: Two men sit side by side wearing sharp suits. Credit Shutterstock)

Why Do We Wear Ties?2015120420151207 (WS)

Why does the tie symbolise a desire to belong and conform as well as individuality?

Mike William looks at the paradox at the heart of the human condition - the desire to belong and to conform, but also to hold onto our individuality. And we see a symbol of this paradox every day in an apparently useless piece of clothing about 150 centimetres long - the necktie. Why do we wear ties?

(Photo: US astronaut Buzz Aldrin arrives on the red carpet wearing a colourful tie. Credit: Getty Images)

Why Does Commuting Make Us The Way We Are?2015100920151010 (WS)
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Why does commuting make us the people we are and how?

Hundreds of millions of us bear the stress and boredom of the same journey day in day out - the commute. For some it is a time of reflection while for others it is a time to turn the air blue with howls of frustration. Why does commuting make us the people we are and how?

(Photo: Rush hour traffic in Nairobi. Credit: Abdinoor Maalim)

Why Does Everyone Wear Trainers?2015102320151024 (WS)
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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 dollars a year? Especially when 85% of the purchases are never intended for its original purpose, health and fitness. Join Mike Williams for the Why Factor on Sneakers.

Produced by Julie Ball

(Photo: A man looks at a collection of sneakers in the window of a shopping mall, in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Credit: Getty Images)

How did the trainer become an acceptable item of clothing?

Why Does The World Love Drinking Tea?2015091820150919 (WS)
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Why tea is the second most popular drink in the world after water.

Tea comes in many guises - milky, sweet and spicy for those in India. The Chinese drink it as nature intended green with no milk and strong with two sugars for the average British builder. So how did this Asian leaf conquer the world to become the second most consumed drink after water? Mike Williams slurps and sips his way through this cup of calm to find out how this unassuming shrub conquered the world.

(Photo: Preparations for the Chinese Tea Ceremony, at Chaya Tea House, London)

Why I’m Not Just Blind2016040820160411 (WS)

Lee Kumutat examines why blindness comes to define the identity of people who have little or no sight. And why is sight so highly prized by people who have it. She talks to people in Kingston Jamaica, Accra in Ghana, in Edinburgh Scotland and California in the US. She asks how they navigate a world which seems to see them in two ways. People who are blind it seems must either be inspirational or deserving pity. Or even both.

(Image: Catherine Gilliland)

Lee Kumutat asks why blind people must either be inspirational or deserving pity

Why Is Water Exceptional?2016020520160208 (WS)

What does water mean to us?

Water is the only molecule in the natural world which expands when it freezes. And that is not its only unusual feature. It is the cornerstone of all of life on this planet, and maybe others. Water is part of the myths and rituals of civilisations all over the world. But if H20, the one chemical formula just about everyone can recognise, was just a little bit different, life as we know it would not exist. Mike Williams explains why water is exceptional and what that means for all of us.

(Photo: Raindrops on a window. Credit to James Beard)

Why Not Celebrate Introvert Personalities?2016082620160829 (WS)

People are often labelled as shy, but introversion is very much misunderstood. Why?

Introverts. People who are often labelled as shy, a term coined following the work on personality types by German psychologist, Carl Jung, in 1921. But introversion is much misunderstood. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone whereas extroverts are the opposite and crave crowds. Emerging research on the biochemistry of the brain indicates that the neurotransmitter dopamine – the chemical released that provides motivation to seek rewards, is much more active for extroverts than for introverts. According to Phd and introvert researcher, Lisa Kaenzig, introverts are much less valued today than they used to be. In the past, some of the world’s most renowned thinkers, religious leaders, philosophers and writers were held in the highest esteem – many of them were working alone and were at their most creative in solitary study. However, she is part of a growing movement which is challenging a seeming bias in favour of the extrovert – for the person who talks first in meetings and makes off-the-cuff remarks and who may shout the loudest to get their ideas heard. The growth of the open plan office, group thinking and collaborative learning are all enemies to the introvert, but in recommendations by Dr Peter Aloka – a Kenyan psychologist who has been studying introvert teenage mothers in Bondo, the answers lie in teaming introverts up with extroverts and calling upon introverts to present group findings and allowing extra think time in response to questions. Where do you lie on the introvert/extrovert scale or are you in the middle – an ambivert? If you are an introvert, you’re in very good company; Barack Obama, Rosa Parks, JK Rowling and many more eminent and thoughtful people are introverts.

Presented by Anu Anand

Produced by Priscilla Ng’ethe and Nina Robinson

(IMAGE: Words in white chalk describing personality types on a blackboard. Credit - marekuliasz, c/o Shutterstock)

Why We Search For The Origins Of Life2016022620160229 (WS)

Why do humans need to understand the infinite and the infinitesimal?

Mike Williams visits the ultimate cathedral of science, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, where researchers from around the world have built the largest single machine on earth to discover some of the most extreme elements of nature, from the heart of an atom to the origins of the universe.

But what drives the human need to know how the universe began and our desire to keep searching for what our world is really made of – down to the smallest particles on earth?

(Photo: A worker walks past a giant photograph of a Large Hadron Collider at an exhibition in Berlin, Germany. Credit to Getty Images)

World War One: Sacrifice2015082920150830 (WS)
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To mark the centenary of World War One, Mike Williams explores the meaning of sacrifice. We often talk of military sacrifice - young men and women, giving their lives for a higher cause. The “ultimate sacrifice? Countless acts of bravery on the battlefield have ended in death. Some are remembered, many are not. But is that sacrifice? Or, is there a darker side to be considered - not the willing self-sacrifice of a soldier, but a soldier sacrificed? And have we, as one philosopher suggests, misunderstood the meaning of sacrifice completely?

(Photo: A flower appears alongside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

An exploration of the meaning of sacrifice to mark the centenary of World War One