The Why Factor

The Why Factor

United Kingdom

Why do we do the things we do? Mike Williams searches for the extraordinary and hidden histories behind everyday objects and actions.



Why do some short people lie about their height? How much difference does a few inches make? Felicity Evans is 5 foot (152 cm) tall. That’s 5 inches shorter than the average woman in the UK. In this edition, she examines whether society discriminates against short people and if so, why? She asks what’s it like being shorter than normal and how it affects your self-confidence, career choice and overall happiness. She talks to Joe Mangano, who at 5’4” hasn’t grown since he was 15 years old. He describes how it feels to be treated like a child. Orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Dror Paley, explains how he makes patients taller by breaking then lengthening their legs. Felicity meets Vince Graff (5 foot 2”) who shares his experience of finding love and happiness, despite being well below average height; and Isobella Jade, known as the ‘shortest working model in New York City’, offers her advice on how to be successful despite being at least 6 inches shorter than the average catwalk model. The programme also hears from Tim Frayling, Professor of Human Genetics at Exeter University and Lance Workman, Professor of Psychology at the University of South Wales. Presenter: Felicity Evans Producer: Sally Abrahams (Photo: Graphic illustration of the height measurement of a tall and short person. Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Why Words Matter  

The average English-speaker knows about 25,000 words. And yet those 25,000 words can be combined into an infinite number of sentences -not a simple process. Many people believe that, whatever language you speak, the words you know have a profound influence on the way you think. This is a controversial theory among linguists. In this edition of the Why Factor, Lane Greene explains how paying attention to the language we use can give us a greater understanding of our politics, our debates, our cultures and even our own minds. (Image: Top of woman's head with the word "hello" written in different languages floating above. Credit: Aysezgicmeli/Shutterstock)


What lures people to delve beneath the earth, peering into the dark recesses that exist underground? Simon Cox hears from the urban explorers trying to find the hidden layers of cities that exist deep beneath our feet and the danger how do we cope with it and the fear of being in the darkness in an enclosed space. And as we travel, work and explore in deeper, longer more extensive subterranean networks, he asks what’s stopping us from spending more time there by living underground too? Simon speaks to former miner Andy Smith, urban explorer Steve Duncan, caving expert Jules Barratt, engineer and psychologist Gunnar Jonsson and urban planners Professor Anne-Marie Purdoux and Professor Clara Irazábal. (Photo: Beautiful stalactites in a cave with two speleologist explorers / Photo credit: Shutterstock)


Why do we clap? Becky Milligan uncovers how the highly contagious nature of applause has been exploited by everyone from Roman emperors to today's politicians . She explores the different styles and rhythms. And how it can make us feel on top of the world or make us want to crawl under a stone. With Historian Greg Aldrete, theatre critic Anne Treneman, music academic Dr Marcus Pearce, Mathematician Richard Mann, comedian Mark Cooper-Jones and former Women's Institute Chairman Helen Carey. (Photo: A pair of hands clapping on black background. Credit:BravissimoS/Shutterstock)

Why do Men Want Six Packs?  

Why do men crave these six bumps on their stomach? Why are they willing to risk their lives for this look? We take a journey to ancient Greece to discover the origins of the chiselled abdominals, learn from online stars on how hard it is to achieve one, hear from a man who bought one from a surgeon and how Instagram and the recession are playing a part in the ‘Six Pack’ story. (Photo: Close up of a man's six pack. Credit: LDN Muscle/BBC)


Yoga is an ancient practice that includes meditation, exercise and spirituality. It’s said to date back thousands of years and originate in the east. But why do millions of us do it every day and how has it become so popular over time? There is controversy about different types of yoga and whether they ring true to the original purpose of the practice. So when we do yoga, are we doing it for the right reasons? Valley Fontaine hears from the director of a 98-year-old yoga institute in India, a religious studies professor in the US, an instructor who teaches yoga for you and your dog, founders of a yoga festival in the UK, and the 2016 women’s yoga champion. (Image: Woman in Yoga pose near Indian temple. Credit:


There is something satisfying about working with our hands. Whether it is making something, fixing something or caring for someone, tactile skills are rewarding and valuable. Maria Margaronis asks what it is about working with our hands that make us so fundamentally human. (Photo: Woman's hands holding a decorative pot)


Why is listening different from hearing? What is the skill of listening and how can we develop that skill? (Photo: Close up of woman's ear. Credit: Photomediagroup/Shutterstock)


For most of us, speaking fluently comes naturally. But if you have a stutter, getting the words out can be a real struggle. Some sounds are repeated or prolonged or a word gets stuck and doesn’t come out at all. At times it’s impossible even to say your own name or where you live, which can cause huge distress and embarrassment. Stammering or stuttering (it’s the same thing) affects more than 70 million people globally – that’s about 1% of the world’s population. It’s a neurological condition, based on the brain’s wiring. But other factors, like genetics, also play a part. Becky Milligan examines why some people develop a stammer, what treatments are available and whether stammering can ever be cured. Becky talks to Dr Deryk Beal from Holland Bloorview Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital, to find out how the brain of someone who stutters is different from someone with no stutter; she visits the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children where 12 year-old Sam is getting treatment from speech therapist Kevin Fower; we hear from 22 year-old Rishabh Panchamia, who was so ashamed of his stammer he considered suicide. He’s now found fluency with the help of the McGuire programme. And Becky meets Betony Kelly who tells us that being open about having a stammer has helped her to accept and be proud of it as part of her identity. (Photo: Rishabh Panchamia playing snooker. Credit: BBC Copyright - Rishabh Panchamia)


It’s probably something we take for granted and do every day - whether a toothy grin, a megawatt beam or just a slight upturn of the corners of the mouth. But have you ever considered why we smile and what effect is has on other people? Scientists say it’s one of our most basic human expressions and it’s easier to smile than to frown. Aasmah Mir explores the power of the smile, how easy it is to fake and what happens when you lose the ability to smile. Aasmah discusses the science behind a smile with Marianne LaFrance, professor of psychology at Yale university and with neuropsychologist, Dr Hamira Riaz. She talks to Jonathan Kalb, professor of theatre at Hunter College, City University of New York, who lost his smile overnight; and speaks to 16 year-old Teegan O’Reilly from Dublin, Ireland, who was born with a rare neurological condition which means she can never smile. Aasmah also hears from Dr Subodh Kumar Singh, director of GS Memorial Plastic Surgery Hospital in Varanasi, who has created thousands of smiles at his hospital in India. And meets photographer Rick Pushinsky, who reveals what happened when the wife of a former British prime minister smiled too much. (Photo: Man in swimming shorts, smiling with his thumb up leaning against a window. Credit: Rick Pushinsky)


Hypochondria: the fear of having a serious, undiagnosed illness. We may mock the hypochondriac, but a constant fear of sickness and death can be a debilitating and distressing condition in itself, with some sufferers even ending up in wheelchairs. So why don’t we take this misunderstood malaise more seriously? Presenter: Becky Milligan Producer: Ben Crighton (Photo: Man in white coat with placing stethoscope on man's chest. Credit: Michal Kowalski/Shutterstock)


In his first TV interview as US President, Donald Trump claimed that torture “absolutely” works and said the US should “fight fire with fire.” But what evidence is there that torture is an effective method of obtaining valuable intelligence? And can the use of torture ever be justified? Becky Milligan hears from a former interrogator who worked at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and now calls himself a torturer, a former political prisoner who was tortured in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, and a neuroscientist who has studied the effects of torture on the brain. Presenter: Becky Milligan Producer: Ben Crighton (Photo:Man sitting in chair with hands tied together behind his back with a bucket on the floor. Credit: Rommel Canlas/Shutterstock)


Can deep-frozen bodies ever return from the dead? Before death you can express a choice about what happens afterwards. Burial perhaps? Cremation? Or something else? Maybe you could ask for your body to be pumped full of anti-freeze, then suspended, upside down, in a vat of liquid nitrogen at 196 degrees below zero, in the hope that the medicine of the future can resurrect you. Is this wishful thinking or the secret to a very, very long life? Mike Williams explores the science, the motivation and the ethics behind cryonics and asks whether frozen human bodies will ever be fit for a new life. Contributors: Peggy Jackson, hospice social worker Robin Hanson, associate professor of economics, George Mason University, USA Danila Medvedev, co-founder and deputy director, KrioRus Barry Fuller, professor of surgical sciences and low temperature medicine, University College London Medical School Clive Coen, professor of neuroscience, King's College, London Nils Hoppe, professor of ethics and law in the life sciences, University of Hannover, Germany Presenter: Mike Williams Producer: Sally Abrahams (Photo: Woman wearing a purple hat and man wearing a black top hat. Credit: BBC Copyright - contributors gave us permission to use this image)


Regret – why do we feel this negative emotion? Is it right to live with it, or should we simply get over our mistakes of the past? Mike Williams speaks to a palliative care nurse who recorded the regrets of the dying, and the man with 50,000 regrets, all entrusted to him by anonymous strangers who have confessed the biggest regrets of their lives on his website. (Photo: Statue of woman with head in hand. Credit: Cheryl E. Davis/Shutterstock)

Carrying Guns  

In 1994, most Americans said they owned their gun for sport or hunting. Fast forward twenty years and now most people say they have their gun for self protection. So what changed in this time; did crime increase? Actually, the data shows that crime has declined significantly over time. So what are people really scared of? And is it rational to respond in this way? We visit a gun licensing class in Texas, USA to hear what prompted people to sign up. We also hear from Angela Stroud, sociologist and author of the book Good Guys With Guns, who argues that it’s not crime people are scared of, but something much less tangible. We also hear from a psychologist in a country you may not associate with guns….neutral Switzerland. They have the third highest gun ownership rate in the world, after the USA and Yemen. So why do so many people have guns there? Is it really just as simple as protecting ourselves from harm? Presenter: Aasmah Mir Producer: Phoebe Keane (Photo: Maria Mathis practices shooting her handgun on her ranch in Texas, USA. )


What drives some people to take the law into their own hands? Mike Williams hears stories from Europe, Africa and the US. Stories about the men – and it is usually men – who take it upon themselves to patrol the streets or seek out paedophiles online. And, he explores what happens when vigilante groups mutate into monsters. Whether motivated by revenge, frustration or a desire to do good, does mob justice ever work? With contributions from Scott and Callum, co-founders, Dark Justice; Laurie James, forensic criminologist, based in Botswana; Curtis Sliwa, founder of Guardian Angels; Kate Meagher, associate professor, Department of International Development, London School of Economics; Jim Gamble, former chief executive, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre; Abubakar Bukar Kagu, solicitor and advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria Photo: Close up of Guardian Angels' jacket with other men sitting in background, Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Why Do We Make Lists?  

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)


Could you forgive the person who killed your child or who raped or tortured you? Some crimes, some events are so awful, so cruel, it’s impossible to imagine ever being able to say to the wrongdoer, ‘I forgive you’. Mike Williams hears the stories of those who have experienced unimaginable pain and suffering at the hands of others. And discovers what it feels like to turn anger and desire for revenge against the perpetrators into compassion and understanding for them. What does the act of forgiveness mean to the offender? The programme explores how learning to forgive can make us happier and healthier. But how in some cases, the atrocity is so enormous that forgiveness is a step too far. Contributors: Madeleine Black, Counsellor based in Glasgow, Scotland Robert Enright, Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Wisconsin, USA Martin Palmer, Theologian and Historian of religion Sarah Heatley, mother of Nina and Jack Kemal Pervanic, survivor, Omarska concentration camp during the Bosnian war Presenter: Mike Williams Producer: Sally Abrahams (Photo: Family standing on cliff edge with hills in background. Credit: BBC Copyright (with permission from contributor)

Why do we get Road Rage?  

Everyday millions of us across the world get into our cars and drive. For many of us this will be an unpleasant experience because of the behavior of other drivers or even because of our own bad behavior. Even the calmest person can become a raging demon while driving, screaming and swearing at the other road users. What is it about driving that makes some people so angry? What can we do to stop it? We speak with professional racing driver Nathalie McGloin about keeping control Dr Mark Sullman tells us what’s happening in our heads when we get into the driver seat Comedian Rhod Gilbert gives us a passionate description of what gives him road rage Monica Chadha describes driving in Delhi Glenn Scherer gives us a lesson in ‘car yoga’ to try and keep the rage away. Presenter: Mike Williams Producer: Jordan Dunbar (Photo: Man shouting at woman sitting in car. Credit: Shutterstock/


The desire for vengeance – to harm those who’ve harmed you - is part of human nature. Whether it’s getting your own back on a cheating partner or settling a score with a childhood bully, many of us have considered retribution against the person who’s done us wrong. Yet often we decide not to act on that instinct. So what motivates someone to take revenge and why did this kind of aggressive behaviour evolve? Mike Williams talks to a perpetrator who found it sweet and hears the tragic story of a victim of impossibly cruel revenge. Contributors: “Annie”, who took revenge Michael McCullough, Professor of Psychology, Miami University Dr David Chester, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University Sarah Heatley, mother of Nina and Jack Philippe Sands QC, International Human Rights lawyer and author, East West Street Professor Jack Levin, Co-Director, Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts Presenter: Mike Williams Producer: Sally Abrahams (Photo: White Voodoo doll with red pins on cork background. Credit: Shutterstock/Scott Rothstein)

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