52 episodes

Listen to full episodes of WHYY’s health, science and innovation program, The Pulse.

The Pulse WHYY

    • Science
    • 4.6 • 178 Ratings

Listen to full episodes of WHYY’s health, science and innovation program, The Pulse.

    Laughing Matters

    Laughing Matters

    There’s not a lot to laugh about right now. But throughout the pandemic, we’ve managed to joke about our shared misery — like making fun of toilet paper hoarding, Zoom mishaps, and mask mumbling. Humor helps get us through tough times. It’s a crucial coping mechanism, a way of connecting with others, and part of what makes us human.

    On today’s episode, we explore humor — what makes us laugh, how it works, and the important roles it plays in our lives. We hear stories about inappropriate laughter, why jokes have a shelf life, and using humor to cope with trauma.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    Philosophy professor Robert Clewis discusses different three theories on humor, and what makes us laugh.
    Timing’s everything when it comes to jokes — including whether and how long they’re funny. Reporter Jad Sleiman explores the life cycle of jokes — what makes them land and what makes them bomb.
    We talk with neuroscientist Sophie Scott about the science of laughter: what’s it like to study laughter, what it looks like in a brain scanner, and where our sense of humor comes from. Scott is the Director of the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London.

    • 50 min
    Working Memory

    Working Memory

    Think about the millions of details stored in your memory: what you had for breakfast; how to get to work; the smell of lavender; your first kiss; a great vacation; how to calculate percentages. So much of our existence is based on our memory. All of the small and big things we accomplish and do every day tap into this system. But how does memory work? Why do we remember some things and not others? On this episode, we look at memory. We hear stories about what scientists say happens to our earliest childhood memories; people who cultivate a practice of remembering their dreams; and a new therapy that uses the senses to improve recall among people with dementia.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    Michael Yassa, professor of neurobiology at the University of California Irvine, explains what we know about how memories are stored and accessed in our brains.
    We look into the “jukebox” in our heads that stores thousands of songs and melodies — and seemingly plays them at random.
    We explore the relationship between creativity and memory with Kevin Paul Madore, a research psychologist at Stanford University. We need memory to be creative, but sometimes it can be a tricky partner when we’re trying to come up with something brand new.

    • 49 min
    The Hidden Costs of Science

    The Hidden Costs of Science

    In science, we tend to focus on the destination, not the journey. But for every big breakthrough, every historic discovery, there are countless contributions that no one notices: the forgotten grunt workers, research that came to nothing, even lives lost in the pursuit of progress. Today’s episode is about the hidden cost of science — the price of doing business that we rarely think about. We hear stories about the mental health toll of graduate school, the literal cost of research, and the environmental impact of scientific progress.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    J’Nese Williams — a historian of Modern Britain and lecturer at Stanford University — tells the story of the enslaved workforce that built the botanical garden on the tropical island of St. Vincent. She did some of her research on this topic during a fellowship at the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Missouri.
    We talk with diabetes researcher Antentor Hinton Jr. about learning to say no, and his tips for succeeding and thriving in graduate school.
    Each year, universities spend millions of dollars on a hidden cost: access to research and scientific journals. But that’s starting to change thanks to the Open Access movement. Reporter Liz Tung talks with University of California librarian Jeffrey MacKie-Mason about what’s changing and why.
    Many scientists are passionate about the use of animals in their research. They feel empathy for the animals, but they also believe that this work is necessary, and serves a greater purpose. Reporter Jad Sleiman explores this complicated relationship.

    • 49 min
    Chasing Happiness

    Chasing Happiness

    The pandemic has changed the way a lot of us understand and experience happiness. In normal times, we think of happiness as a big-picture goal — a guiding principle for making decisions. Will this job make me happy? Will this relationship make me happy? Will starting a family, or moving, or switching careers make me happy?

    But over the past few months, as our lives have increasingly been shaped by restrictions, loss, and fear, many of us have had to reexamine what happiness means, and how we can find it.

    On this episode, we hear from psychologists who study happiness, and explore what contributes to happiness, and what it means in this unique moment.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    How do we achieve happiness? That’s a question that University of California psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky has been exploring for years. She says happiness is both a state — a fleeting moment — and also a trait, something that’s more stable, and a more dominant characteristic in some people than in others.
    Brock Bastian, a psychologist and professor at the University of Melbourne, discusses the pursuit of happiness, and how a more fearless approach to life might result in greater happiness.
    At the age of 4, Lise Deguire was severely burned in an accident, causing third-degree burns all over her body. The ensuing years were filled with surgeries, pain, and parental neglect. Despite everything, Deguire — who’s now a psychologist and author — found her way to happiness. She tells us about that journey. Her book is called “Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor.”
    How does culture shape our expectations and experience of happiness? We get the lowdown from Jeanne Tsai, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Culture and Emotion Lab.
    We also created a playlist of songs about happiness. Check it out on Spotify or press play below.

    • 48 min
    Booze, Science and Our Health

    Booze, Science and Our Health

    We all know that drinking a lot of alcohol is bad for your health. It’s tied to heart disease, heightened risk for some cancers, addiction, and accidents. But there is a long-held belief that moderate drinking is fine — even good for your health. So what does science actually say about the health impact of drinking? On this episode, we dig into the complicated relationship between alcohol and our health, and discover a tangled web of industry funding, thwarted research studies, and frustrated scientists. We also hear stories about how the pandemic has affected our drinking habits, and a new substance that promises to deliver the buzz of booze without the hangover.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    New York Times reporter Roni Rabin recounts her investigation into a massive study that was supposed to shed light on how moderate drinking impacts health. Instead, she broke open a story that raised questions about money and integrity in alcohol research.
    Vivian Gonzalez, a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage, discusses the impact of alcohol on Native American communities, and the widespread “firewater myth.”
    Key West, Florida is a hard-drinking town — but like everywhere, COVID-19 has closed down bars and limited social gatherings. Will the pandemic change this party town forever? Reporter Nancy Klingener takes a look at the party town’s history — and its future.
    Getting — and staying — sober is a daily commitment for many people… one that the pandemic’s made a lot harder. KUT reporter Claire McInerny tells this story about recovery in the time of COVID-19.

    • 50 min
    Confronting Implicit Biases

    Confronting Implicit Biases

    We’re trying to have more meaningful conversations about racism as a country. Part of that means talking about implicit bias — assumptions and stereotypes that may influence our decisions and actions without us even realizing it. Implicit bias can have many harmful consequences: The customer who’s accused of stealing; the grad student being told they’re in the wrong room; the driver being pulled over for no reason. And in some cases, these biases can lead to violence.

    On this episode, we explore what implicit bias means — what it is, how we can test for it, and what we can do about it. We hear stories about whether or not anti-bias training actually works, the origins — and criticisms — of Harvard’s Implicit Association Test, and where our biases actually come from.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    Stanford University social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt talks about the ways implicit biases have affected her own life, and how she tries to educate people about them in her work. Her book is “Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do.”
    Evolutionary psychologist Corey Cook from Pacific Lutheran University discusses the evolutionary origins of biases. He argues that they likely developed as a way to assess threats.
    We hear from Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, one of the researchers who helped develop the Implicit Association Test, about the humbling experience of confronting her own biases. Her book is “Blind Spot – Hidden Biases of Good People.”
    White people aren’t the only ones with implicit biases — that’s what Brennan Center for Justice fellow Ted Johnson discovered when he took Harvard’s Implicit Association Test a few years ago. In this story, we hear what the test taught Johnson about himself, and about the nature of racism. Johnson’s Atlantic essay is called “Black-on-Black Racism: The Hazards of Implicit Bias.“
    Despite its popularity, the Implicit Association Test has drawn criticism over the years. Is it really an accurate way of measuring biases? Olivia Goldhill, a science reporter for Quartz, helps us dive into the history of the IAT, and its critiques.
    Neurologists Anjan Chatterjee and Roy Hamilton of the University of Pennsylvania discuss an app they’ve used to try and change people’s biases.

    • 49 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
178 Ratings

178 Ratings

Serenaeosully ,

❤️LOVE The Pulse!❤️

This show is incredible! I’ve learned so much from the many different episodes. I’ve lea her about experiments, animals, movements and psychical phenomena I never knew about before. I love how each episode is broken into little “mini stories” made by different reporters, though they’re all connected by a theme. Everyone does a wonderful job— this podcast has really enriched my life!

Snow Biscuit ,

Good info but the vocal fry...

Edit 10/23/20: Please LABEL your reruns as such! Today’s episode is a rerun, and it would have been so simple to state in the show notes, “This episode originally aired 3/13/20.”

I like that each episode is a number of mini-topics reported by different people under one theme. I don’t like the vocal fry of several reporters; one is so bad I find myself not paying any attention to the content because all I can think about is how irritating her voice is. When your job is speaking, your voice should be pleasant, and if it’s not, sign up for a class with a voice coach! The Pulse would get five stars if I didn’t have to listen to people who sound like Lurch on The Addams Family.

Shry G ,

The Pulse

Great show! The host is excellent-bright, great presentation, a natural talent. Love the interesting and innovative topics. Listen to it on my local npr. Excited to have the podcast so I never miss a show.

Top Podcasts In Science

Listeners Also Subscribed To

More by WHYY