Meet The 'Cast: Maggie And Max From NPR's 'Hidden Brain' : NPR Extra The first in our new series on the voices and people behind our podcasts. First up, our social sciences podcast, Hidden Brain.
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Meet The 'Cast: Maggie And Max From NPR's 'Hidden Brain'

Max Nesterak and Maggie Penman of NPR's Hidden Brain podcast. Hugo Rojo/NPR hide caption

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Hugo Rojo/NPR

Max Nesterak and Maggie Penman of NPR's Hidden Brain podcast.

Hugo Rojo/NPR

NPR's Hidden Brain premiered in September 2015 and a couple of months later, the team continues to uncover fascinating stories revealing the patterns that drive human behavior. NPR Extra caught up with Maggie Penman and Max Nesterak from the podcast's production team to talk shop, hear about their experience putting the program together, and share advice for aspiring audio storytellers.

What's your background prior to joining the Hidden Brain team?

MN: Before coming to Hidden Brain I was working with psychologist Angela Duckworth on her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and on an online psychology magazine I co-founded called The Psych Report.

MP: I was a producer for NPR's Morning Edition... and let me tell you, I am not a morning person. Hidden Brain has way better hours.

Max, it's worth noting that while you had previous journalism experience, you're new to audio. How has this shaped your first couple of months with the show?

MN: There's a lot I still need to learn, but learning audio has been so rewarding. Audio adds a new texture to storytelling that I'd never been able to play with in print.

What's a common misconception people have about podcasting or the process of producing a show like Hidden Brain?

MN: I think with a lot of things on radio, people think what they hear is the unedited, unabridged version, when really there are hours of recording that go into producing a 20 minute podcast. And that's a good thing! It means we're doing a good job.

Recall an episode that really hit home and made you think about a topic with a new perspective. Can you share that with us?

MP: The fun thing about working on a podcast about human behavior is that it is literally always relevant to our lives. Recent episodes have been about how to find satisfaction at work, why boredom drives us crazy, and why our brains are so lousy at comprehending climate change. These topics inevitably make us examine our own habits and biases... Hopefully they do that for the listeners too.

Think back to when you were fresh out of college. What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

MN: Oh my god. How much time do you have? The great irony of life is that you amass all this information and then, well, you don't have much time left to use it. Life is all about making decisions under uncertainty and it's cliché, but yeah, life is about learning from mistakes. I mean, I wish I could tell myself yesterday what I know today about buying frozen fish on sale.... But when it comes to fresh out of college, I think I know everything is going to be just fine. Nobody escapes those uncomfortable years after graduation when you're trying to find your way, so I guess, just roll with it?

MP: Yeah, I would just reiterate, don't buy fish on sale. Or order two of the same thing in different sizes thinking you'll return the one that doesn't fit, because you definitely won't!

What's key to good storytelling?

MN: Adding value.

MP: Characters are key. So much of radio and podcasting is just giving people a space to tell their stories.

Ever wonder how hidden bias can shape the sharing economy? You can listen to Maggie and Max discuss their findings in the latest Hidden Brain episode:

This is the first installment of Meet The 'Cast, an NPR Extra series looking at the stories and people behind our podcasts. Discover your next great listen with our Podcast Directory at