What's In It For Me? | Hidden Brain Coincidences can make the everyday feel extraordinary. But are they magical, or just mathematical? And what does our obsession with coincidences say about us?
NPR logo Radio Replay: What's In It For Me?

Radio Replay: What's In It For Me?

We tend to be drawn to people and things that remind us of ourselves. Renee Klahr/NPR hide caption

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Renee Klahr/NPR

We tend to be drawn to people and things that remind us of ourselves.

Renee Klahr/NPR

Have you ever been at a party or office get-together, and met someone who has the same name? Or maybe the same birthday? Or maybe you've gone to vacation in a far-flung locale and met someone from your hometown.

Many of us are drawn to coincidences like this. They make us wonder, how in the world did this happen? What does it mean?

Today we explore our deep fascination with these moments of serendipity. New research suggests they reveal important things about how our minds work, and they have a far more powerful effect on our lives than any of us imagine.

We'll also explore the phenomenon of "implicit egotism" — the idea that we're drawn to people and things that remind us of ourselves. For example, having a shared birthday seems to actually draw people closer to one another. Researchers have also found that people with last names like 'Baker' or 'Carpenter' are actually more likely to go into jobs as bakers and carpenters, respectively.

While this tendency may seem harmless and somewhat charming, it can also have darker implications — particularly if it makes us more inclined to help people who look like us or live near us.

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, and Renee Klahr. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.