Why Diversity In A Group May Boost Creativity There is great comfort in the familiar. It's one reason humans often flock to other people who share the same interests, laugh at the same jokes, hold the same political views. But familiar ground may not be the best place to cultivate creativity. Researchers have found that people with deep connections to those from other countries and cultures often see benefits in terms of their creative output. This week, we revisit a favorite 2018 episode about the powerful connection between the ideas we dream up and the people who surround us, and what it really takes to think outside the box.

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This is HIDDEN BRAIN. I'm Shankar Vedantam. In 2011, Richard Freeman was working on a project. He was studying the way groups of people work together - specifically, how scientists work together. Richard, who's a Harvard economics professor, noticed something intriguing - scientists in the United States seemed to stick to their own kind.


RICHARD FREEMAN: You'd see Chinese folk concentrated in one lab, Indian folk concentrated in another lab, Europeans of different groups associating more with their compatriots.

VEDANTAM: This was not surprising. You see this kind of clustering in lots of workplaces. But Richard thought science ought to be different.

FREEMAN: In general, people who are more alike are likely to think more alike. And one of the things that gives a kick to science and scientific productivity is that you get people with somewhat different views, different perspectives coming together.

VEDANTAM: This assertion has long been debated. Some people say teams with lots of different perspectives come up with better ideas. Others say, no, when a group has lots of different views, this can produce conflict, gridlock. So which is it? Richard decided to put the question to the test. Do scientists who collaborate with others from the same group produce better science or worse science than scientists who have a wide network of collaborators? To find out, Richard looked at one of the most important signals of scientific success - research publications. He surveyed vast numbers of articles and papers, and he found that in a large number of these papers, co-authors shared a common ethnicity - no surprise. But then he went further. There's a very powerful way to judge the quality of scientific papers. The more groundbreaking a paper, the more likely it is to be cited by researchers writing other papers. Citations, in other words, are a marker of importance.

FREEMAN: We asked, well, are the papers done by people who are more ethnically the same? Are those papers - do they get more attention? Do they have more citations? Do they appear in journals that are of greater prestige?

VEDANTAM: The answer was no.

FREEMAN: If you write a paper all - largely with people of your own group, it's likely the paper gets less citations than if you write it with a broader group of people.


VEDANTAM: Papers that got the most citations, the most prestige, were often written by a mix of people with different backgrounds.

FREEMAN: It is much better to have people working in - collaborating when they're across different laboratories, across different parts of the U.S., between countries, rather than people only working in the same group.

VEDANTAM: The finding held true no matter which ethnic groups you looked at.

FREEMAN: This is a result that goes across all the groups. So it's not specific, like, Chinese guys write a paper together, their paper gets less citations and less impact. The same thing is true if native-born Anglo-Americans do that.

VEDANTAM: In other words, that you're actually at a disadvantage if you are surrounded by people of your own group, in some ways, regardless of what that group is.

FREEMAN: Yes. And I think the key thing is to get more ideas sort of linked together so they can spawn better ideas as opposed to us all working in the same way.


VEDANTAM: We're going to explore a single idea today that builds upon Richard's finding in science. We'll look at this idea's applications in the arts, in fashion and in business. It's about the strange connection between the kind of ideas we dream up and the kind of people who surround us. Diversity and creativity - this week on HIDDEN BRAIN.

In the far northwest of Spain is a place of farms and forests and ocean - Galicia. It's a region of rugged coastlines, hardy stews and the Galician bagpipe.


CRISTINA PATO: I come from Ourense, which is one of four provinces of Galicia.

VEDANTAM: This is Cristina Pato. She's a bagpipe player.

PATO: When you grew up in Galicia, you grew up hearing music everywhere, hearing music in a bar, hearing music in a square, celebrating the festivities of the day or in weddings or even birthdays. I mean, when you are in Galicia, you pretty much can hear the bagpipes almost everywhere.


VEDANTAM: Cristina's been playing the bagpipes since she was a child. She grew up in a musical household. Her father was an accordion player. Her three older sisters all played the bagpipes.

PATO: And I just wanted to be whatever my sisters were doing. So they began with the bagpipes when I was 4 years old, so I just did it.

VEDANTAM: The girls were talented. By the time she was 10, Cristina and her sister Raquel (ph) would travel to villages to play at festivals.

PATO: My mother will give us the Galician dresses, and then we will start walking. In those streets, the sound of two bagpipes at 8 a.m. is something that everybody can not only hear but also recognize. My sister and I will be just waiting for them to come out, play a little muineira, which is the Galician national dance, and people will just start dancing around.


VEDANTAM: As she grew older, Cristina began to experiment with her bagpipes. She started to play music that wasn't embedded in the folkloric tradition. She started touring with bands. At 18, she released her first solo album.


VEDANTAM: The more Cristina stretched, the better she got. By the time her second album was released two years later, she dyed her hair bright green and acquired a nickname - the Jimi Hendrix of the bagpipes.


VEDANTAM: For some traditionalists, Cristina was stepping over a line. In Galicia, the bagpipes remain deeply embedded in tradition. But improvisation came naturally to her. She needed to make her own kind of music.

PATO: I was trying to just tell people, this is what I am, and it's not like I don't care about what you think about what I do with my instrument, but there is something about what I do with my instrument that keeps me going.

VEDANTAM: By the time she was a young adult, Cristina had to make a choice. It seemed to her like the bagpipes could only take her so far. Cristina had also been trained in classical piano. In her mid-20s, she decided to leave Spain and go to the United States. She would pursue a mainstream musical career with the piano.


PATO: And I move here. I didn't tell anybody around me when I went to Rutgers University to get my doctorate that I had another life.

VEDANTAM: Cristina kept her two lives separate. One side of her was a diligent classical music student. The other...


VEDANTAM: ...Was still a green-haired bagpipe player from Galicia. One day in her second semester, a professor asked for help in translating a song.

PATO: So I get this call from the professor of the vocal department, and she says, I have a song in here, which is in a language that I believe is closer to Spanish, so I was wondering if you could be the pianist for this singer and also the coach - the vocal coach - for diction. And when I see this card, it was "Lua Descolorida," which is literally colorless moon in Galician.


DAWN UPSHAW: (Vocalizing).

PATO: And this was a poem by the most amazing Galician poet of all times, Rosalia de Castro, a female writer of the end of the 19th century. And this composer, who - to be honest, I didn't know anything about him. This composer actually has chosen that poem to create music around it.

VEDANTAM: That composer, it turns out, was celebrated - an Argentinian named Osvaldo Golijov. She met him at rehearsal.

PATO: We started talking about Galicia. Then he got excited. Then I told him, well, I actually play the other most important thing about Galicia, which is the Galician bagpipe. And then his eyes opened even wider.


UPSHAW: (Singing in non-English language).

VEDANTAM: Fast-forward six months. Cristina got a call. It was Osvaldo.

PATO: Hey says, why don't you and your husband come to Lenox, Mass.? I'm here with some friends. Bring your bagpipe, and, yeah, just come and have fun with us.

VEDANTAM: So they did.

PATO: We arrived in Tanglewood, actually. That's where they were meeting. We see Osvaldo. We started talking. And he says, well, tonight we are having, like, a gathering in the place where we are staying in Lenox, and I was hoping for you just to show them your instrument, talk a little bit about your tradition, your music, what you do, and I'm sure they will love it. So there I was, like, playing my instrument with a bunch of strangers that I - the only person I could recognize physically, it was Yo-Yo.


PATO: Yo-Yo Ma, the cellist.

VEDANTAM: The most renowned and famous cellist in the world.


VEDANTAM: What Cristina didn't realize was that she'd stumbled into a room filled with master musicians from around the world. They were part of a group created by Yo-Yo Ma. It's a collective known as the Silk Road Ensemble, and it brings together musicians from different cultures and different traditions.

PATO: I kind of was lucky that that night, I didn't even know who I was playing for because if I did, probably would not have felt so free in the idea of, where are these people? What am I doing in front of all of them? I began playing. They started asking questions. I got excited. Then I asked them to join and play. And then we ended up that evening all dancing a Galician muineira that I coached them how to dance. And that moment really changed my life in every possible direction. And in that moment, I didn't even realize how much the moment was going to mean for the rest of my life.


VEDANTAM: It was a turning point. Cristina joined the Silk Road Ensemble. She embraced the vision for the collective, a vision that began with a simple question.

PATO: What could happen when strangers meet?


VEDANTAM: What could happen when strangers meet? This is the question Yo-Yo Ma had asked. What could musicians from many different cultures create when they come together? It turns out, something extraordinarily beautiful.


VEDANTAM: Yo-Yo Ma describes the work of the collective as something he calls the edge effect. Cristina says it's an idea that stuck with her. The edge effect...

PATO: Is the point in which two ecosystems meet, like the forest and the savannah. And apparently, in ecology, this edge effect is where the most new life-forms are created. And somehow, Silk Road is some sort of his recreation of this edge effect.


VEDANTAM: For Cristina, working in that zone where new life-forms emerge - that changed the way she saw music.


DAVIDE SALVADO: (Singing in non-English language).

VEDANTAM: She began to question why Cristina the bagpipe player and Cristina the classical pianist had to live in different worlds. It's true; the music was different; the traditions were different; even the audiences seemed different. But so what?

PATO: All of a sudden, working with Silk Road, I found the connections between the two worlds I've been living all my life that were not even connected in my hometown. And you have to understand, also, that in Ourense, where I come from, the bagpiper school and the conservatory for classical music were two buildings next to each other. This bagpiper school had, in a city of 100,000 people - had more than 10,000 somehow involved with the bagpiper school. And I could count with the fingers of my hands the people that would actually go to both - got trained in classical music but also got trained as a bagpiper.


VEDANTAM: Cristina says that what drew her was the possibility for connections and conversations between different musical forms.

PATO: In Silk Road, you also have to keep going and meeting new strangers, meeting new communities, meeting communities of people that you have never imagined of working with and maybe putting together instruments that you would never think that would work together, like a Galician bagpipe and Japanese shakuhachi.


PATO: Somehow, to me, Silk Road is the metaphor of the 21st-century society, or at least to the wish I have for the 21st-century society.


VEDANTAM: The Silk Road musicians have discovered in music what Richard Freeman discovered in science - the interesting stuff happens when people from different groups come together, work together, collide.


VEDANTAM: When we come back, we'll take a look at the science that explains why diversity and creativity often go hand in hand. Stay with us.


ADAM GALINSKY: Hello. Hello.

VEDANTAM: Hi, Adam. I'm Shankar.

GALINSKY: Nice to meet you.

VEDANTAM: Not long ago, when I was in New York, I stopped by the apartment of social psychologist Adam Galinsky. When my producer Jenny Schmidt and I got there, Adam and his family were waiting for us at the front door.

GALINSKY: So hello.

VEDANTAM: This is Jenny.

GALINSKY: Hi, Jenny.


GALINSKY: Hi, Jenny.


VEDANTAM: Adam lives with his wife Jenna Lyon (ph), his two young sons...

GALINSKY: This is...


GALINSKY: ...Asher (ph).

VEDANTAM: ...Asher and Aidan (ph)...


VEDANTAM: ...And his mother-in-law...


VEDANTAM: ...Vicky Lyon (ph).


VICKY LYON: Nice to meet you, Jenny.

SCHMIDT: Nice to meet you.

VEDANTAM: As we walked into the apartment, Adam made a quick request.

GALINSKY: Do you mind taking off your shoes?

VEDANTAM: Not at all.

We slipped off our boots, and Adam and Jen (ph) pointed to a selection of house shoes they kept under a bench.

JENNA LYON: And here's some slippers if you like...

SCHMIDT: Oh, great, OK.

J LYON: ...Or booties or whatever you want.



VEDANTAM: Adam admits that having a shoe-free house wasn't something he'd done growing up.

GALINSKY: I had never taken my shoes off in my own house before meeting - you know, dating Jen. And, you know, Jen even - doesn't want us to put our clothes on - outside clothes on sitting on the bed. So I've really integrated this. Like, I go to hotels now, and I take off my pants before sitting on the bed.


VEDANTAM: Jen has strong ideas about keeping the inside of a home separate from the outside world. Over time, Adam has made those ideas his own.

GALINSKY: I think that, you know, that's really made me think about space in a totally different way and sort of how people construct their worlds and their interior environments. And, you know, I have much better interior design now in my house than I ever had when I was single.

VEDANTAM: Adam grew up in a secular Jewish family in North Carolina. Jen grew up in Connecticut with parents who had emigrated from the Philippines. They'd held onto their Filipino culture. Part of that culture includes a deep respect for the home, a respect they passed on to Jen. Jen, in turn, passed on that cultural belief to Adam.

GALINSKY: I still actually own my apartment in Chicago, and I went back it to recently. I'm like, basically, what a [expletive] this was. Like, you know, I just - I was just never attentive to all the features of a space that someone who really cares about that and design and how things fit together. And I think that, yeah, the bedroom now is, like - it does feel a little bit more like a sanctuary. Like, and, you know, like, it's almost like you're stepping across, you know, this - into this different portal, if you will.

VEDANTAM: Jen has also adopted some of Adam's values.

J LYON: Adam has taught me, through his Jewish tradition, about embracing - opening up of feelings, which - labeling, identifying feelings. I tend to mute those things or don't like real conflict, so I'll steer off of those...

VEDANTAM: Now, you might be asking, what's the big deal? Anytime a couple gets together, they blend their lives, embrace some things, let go of others. But here's the difference. When people from different countries or cultures come together, it seems to affect their creativity. Adam has studied this topic. We caught up for a longer chat when Jen and the kids weren't around. I wanted to know how he'd gotten interested in the link between diversity and creativity. Adam says it started long ago when he was in high school. Before leaving for a semester abroad, he'd attended a mandatory orientation.

GALINSKY: And I still remember to this day, they said, look; some of you are going to go to China, and in China, it is a sign of respect if you leave food on your plate because it says that you got enough to eat. But in Indonesia, where I was going, it's a sign of disrespect to leave food on your plate because it basically says the food wasn't very good. And so that was sort of eye-opening, transformational experience for me to recognize the same object - food on a plate - could have very different meanings and have very different implications depending on the culture.

VEDANTAM: The same thing means different things depending on your background and perspective. It made Adam wonder how different cultures can help us see the world differently and spark creativity and innovation. Years later, he decided to explore these ideas in a research project.

GALINSKY: The whole project is a great story because it's a good example of both scientific discovery and scientific collaboration.

VEDANTAM: Adam and some colleagues tracked a group of students at a business school. The researchers hypothesized that the students who showed the most creativity at the end of their school years would also be those who'd had the most interactions with people from different countries. They collected a vast amount of data, crunched the results. They were about to publish when...

GALINSKY: Another group of researchers had actually even a better design than we did and scooped our idea and published the paper.

VEDANTAM: That should have been the end of it. Their goal had been to publish, and they'd gotten beat. So even though they had a lot of data, they put it all away and moved on.

GALINSKY: A couple years later, I had a first-year doctoral student, Jackson Lu, and I said, hey, we have this old data; we can't publish in a great journal because someone already scooped us on it, but we could publish it as a replication somewhere good. Why don't you go through the data?

VEDANTAM: What happened next might be an example of the phenomenon Richard Freeman noticed that it helps a research project to have scientists from different ethnicities. Jackson Lu saw something exciting in Adam's data that Adam himself had overlooked.

GALINSKY: And I said, what's that? And he said, I found this finding that people who had dated someone from another culture became more creative during their business school career, but those who just had friends from another culture didn't seem to become more creative. So there's something unique and wonderful about intercultural romantic relationships.


VEDANTAM: Jackson's enthusiasm made Adam and his colleagues sit up. They realized they may have stumbled on something important. Why would dating someone from another culture spur creativity? Why would casual friendships not work the same way?

GALINSKY: So we started thinking again about this idea of a deep - or the depth and the closeness of those intercultural connections might make a difference.

VEDANTAM: They designed an experiment to test whether the finding was real. This time, they reached out only to students who had both dated someone from a different country and dated someone from their own country. The students were then randomly split into two groups.

GALINSKY: In one condition, we'll ask them to recall their experience they had with their - dating someone from their own culture and just describe that experience. Now, in the other condition, we said, recall a time when you dated - about one of your relationships with someone from another culture. What was that experience like?

VEDANTAM: Afterwards, the researchers asked the students to reflect on how much they'd learned about their own and the other culture, and then they were given a test for creativity. If there was no connection between intercultural romance and creativity, asking the students to reflect on different kinds of encounters should have made no difference. But that's not what the researchers found.

GALINSKY: We found that there was a boost in temporary creativity just by reflecting on the intercultural relationship. And that was really driven by the fact that people felt that they had learned more about another culture, and that sort of cultural learning then led - that reflection on that cultural learning led to increased creativity.


VEDANTAM: Psychology research out of Tufts University has found something similar. When you introduce racial diversity into a group, all the people in the group begin to broaden the scope of their thinking and to explore more options. Now, creativity can be difficult to measure, but scientists have devised ways of doing it. Typically, they analyze what they call divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

GALINSKY: And convergent creativity tasks are ones in which there's a single right answer. And one of the most famous examples of a single right answer that we didn't actually use in this particular project but have used in many of our other studies is the Duncker candle problem. In the Duncker candle problem, you ask people to - you give them a candle, a box of tacks and a book of matches. And you tell them, affix the candle to a wall in such way that the candle, when lit, doesn't drip wax onto the wall, table or floor.

VEDANTAM: Adam says that when he tried this with a group of smart undergrads at Princeton, only a small percentage of the students solved the problem within 15 minutes. The reason is that the test requires you to think about familiar objects in a new way.

GALINSKY: A box of tacks can be a repository for tacks but can also be a stand. And the solution is you dump out all the tacks out of the box; you tack the box to the wall, and then you put the candle inside.

VEDANTAM: Divergent tasks don't ask for a single right answer. They require you to produce lots of different ideas.

GALINSKY: In our study, we asked people, at time one, when we first measured their creativity, to generate as many creative uses as they can for a brick. And then at time two, when they graduated from business school, we asked them to think about as many creative uses as they could for a box. And then you can code these uses for the number of uses they come up with. But you can also code them for the number of different categories they come up with. So for a brick, someone might say, oh, it could be used as a piece of furniture. So that's one category. Or it could be used as a weapon; you could throw it at someone. That's another category. Or it could be used as part of a house. That's another category.

VEDANTAM: Again, generating lots of good ideas is a sign of a creative brain. In the study of business school students, Adam and his colleagues gave the volunteers one final task. It's called the Remote Associates Test.

GALINSKY: Where you give people three words, and then you ask them, basically, to find the one word that connects them. And one of the classic examples that people give is you're given these three words - manner, round and tennis. And you got to come up with the one word that connects all three of them. And in this case, the answer is table.

VEDANTAM: Why? You can have table manners. You can have roundtables and...


VEDANTAM: ...You can have table tennis. What Adam and his colleagues found is that in every one of these tests, the group of volunteers randomly selected to reflect on their experience dating someone from another country outperformed those asked to reflect on their experience dating someone from their own country.

GALINSKY: They increased in their flexibility and novelty of their ideas. And basically, in our final data, what we did is we basically created a single composite creativity score, which really collapsed across all these, but the same effect actually emerges on each of the individual problems, which shows how robust and powerful the effect was.


VEDANTAM: The findings were intriguing. The researchers decided to go a step further. They wanted to know if the results would hold up in the real world. They were wondering how to do that when one day, Adam went to a presentation given by his colleague Dan Wang.

GALINSKY: And he was presenting this great, amazing data set of everyone who had a J-1 visa to visit the U.S. And he was able to survey them.

VEDANTAM: J-1 visas allow people to work in the United States for a defined period of time, usually between three months and two years. At any given time, there are about 300,000 J-1 visa holders.

GALINSKY: So that means that we have tons of people who have come to the U.S. for a relatively short period of time but - you know, up to 24 months, almost two years - and then return back to their home country.

VEDANTAM: After the talk, Adam went up to Dan and asked him if, by any chance, he had any data on cross-cultural contact and the depth of those connections.

GALINSKY: He said, I think I do.

VEDANTAM: It turned out Dan had asked former J-1 visa holders this question.

GALINSKY: Please report the frequency of contact that you have with your American friends since you have returned to your home country.

VEDANTAM: The survey also asked the former visa holders what kind of work they'd been doing since returning home. Adam asked Dan to take a look at his data and see if there was a correlation between those who would maintained the closest contact with their American friends and...

GALINSKY: Whether they became an entrepreneur when they got home and founded their own company and whether they had created new practices in their company when they got home.

VEDANTAM: Indeed, there was.

GALINSKY: He said, oh, my God, the data are exactly as you would have predicted. And so that was really the icing on the cake of this paper. You know, we already had this great data from laboratory-based, paper-and-pencil creativity measures, but now we have the core of our hypothesis, that the depth of intercultural relationships, the frequency with which they had contact, predicts these real-world, consequential creativity measures - the probability that they became an entrepreneur and started their own business and how much they had changed and transformed and innovated in their own companies.

VEDANTAM: This time, Adam and his colleagues did not get scooped. They got published.


VEDANTAM: Adam say he sees more and more links between creativity and cultural diversity.


RUPAUL: You better work.

VEDANTAM: In one of his favorite projects, he looked at fashion lines presented by major fashion houses over 21 seasons.

GALINSKY: Milan, Paris, London and New York.

VEDANTAM: He found that there appeared to be a connection between creativity and the time that fashion creators had spent immersed in a different culture.

GALINSKY: And what we found was something really interesting, which is that the amount of time that the creative director had worked abroad predicted their entire fashion line creativity but not the number of countries that they worked abroad. That didn't have near as much of an impact as the amount of time that they worked abroad.


VEDANTAM: All these examples have a common thread. The fashion designers look a lot like the students at business school who dated someone from another country. The students look a lot like the scientists who spend time collaborating with partners from different ethnicities. The musicians who work with someone from a different tradition have something in common with the entrepreneurs who make broad connections and spend time maintaining them. What all these cross-cultural relationships have is depth.

GALINSKY: There's something about deeply understanding and learning about another culture that's transformative. We can get that from living abroad. We can get that from dating someone from another culture. We could even get it from traveling but only if we really learned and understood and embraced and adapted to that other culture while we were traveling abroad. And so the - I think the big scientific conclusion that is very robust is that it's about - really, truly, deeply understanding another culture is the key to enhancing your own creativity.

VEDANTAM: Adam Galinsky and his wife Jen say they want their children to see the world in this expansive way. And Adam says the beauty of his research is that it suggests the benefits of broad collaboration are within easy reach, especially in the United States.

GALINSKY: You don't have to go abroad to get some of the creativity benefits of having that intercultural contact. You can get that same benefit here in the United States by embracing, engaging with people from other cultures. But, again, there's the catch. It can't just be superficial. You got to more deeply connect to people from other cultures to have that transformational impact and that experience.

VEDANTAM: You could argue there are limitations in some of the examples we've discussed today. It's possible that scientists who collaborate with diverse teams or musicians who team up with performers from other traditions - these people might just be risk takers. In other words, it's not the musical collaborations that make you more creative; it's just having an open outlook. It's very difficult to explore questions like this scientifically. We can't conduct experiments where we dictate who people date or who scientists should collaborate with. But I would argue that even in studies where you can't prove cause and effect, you can still see the effects that diversity has on creativity. And this is not just at the level of individuals. It's at the level of communities, even nations.

Consider this. The United States, a country that accounts for about 5% of the world's population, has won about 60% of all the Nobel Prizes ever awarded. From the motor car and the airplane to Facebook and Google, from the telephone and the Internet to Hollywood and Wall Street, scientists, entrepreneurs and entertainers from the United States have powerfully shaped the world in which we live. Could some of this outsized creativity have to do with the extraordinary diversity of America, the waves of immigrants who arrived here over the centuries? I'd like to think the answer is yes.


VEDANTAM: Today's episode was produced by Jenny Schmidt and Parth Shah and edited by Tara Boyle. Our team includes Rhaina Cohen, Thomas Lu, Laura Kwerel and Cat Schuknecht‏.


VEDANTAM: The song you're listening to right now is "Vojo." It's composed by Cristina Pato and Kojiro Umezaki. It blends the Japanese shakuhachi with a Galician bagpipe. Thanks to the team at WNYC's Soundcheck for sharing this recording with us.


VEDANTAM: This week, our unsung hero is Lynette Clemetson. Lynette is currently director of the Knight-Wallace Fellowships program for journalists. But before that, she was a beloved colleague here at NPR. She believes, with every bone in her body, in the link between diversity and creativity. Lynette was an early and ardent supporter of HIDDEN BRAIN. We literally would not exist without her. In fact, I can't believe we haven't previously called her out as an unsung hero. Of course, that is precisely what makes her an unsung hero.

If you liked today's show, please share it with one friend who comes from a different cultural background. Tell us about your conversation on Facebook and Twitter. I'm Shankar Vedantam, and this is NPR.


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