The Why Factor

The Why Factor

United Kingdom

The extraordinary and hidden histories behind everyday objects and actions


What Do You Do?  

When we meet someone and ask them what do you do – what are we really hoping to find out about that person? David Baker explores why we ask ‘what do you do?’ and finds out what happens when you decide you won’t start a relationship with a question about work. Why do we believe that our jobs are the most profound thing about us when there are so many other things we could be talking about? What might seem like a simple social convention – a way of breaking the ice – can also reveal a great deal about how much emphasis we place on our jobs as part of our identity. (Photo: Identity branding. Credit: Shutterstock)


Technology has the potential to change all our lives for the better, yet many of us are often reduced to hitting screens in frustration. So why does technology feel so complicated? In this edition of the Why Factor, Kate Lamble explores why we get so exasperated with new technology and whether we should be concerned about increasingly complex solutions to simple problems. Is poor design to blame? Stupidity on the users part? Or is it part of our natural psychological response to artificial devices? (Image: Man hiding under laptop, Credit: Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock)

Human Remains in Museums  

Many museums around the world hold human bodies and body parts. Egyptian mummies draw huge crowds curious about our ancient past and specimens in medical museums allow us to imagine our own bodies from the inside. Many of these museum objects have become highly contested. Whilst some people may look at them and see artefacts or tools for knowledge, for others, human remains remain human. Shivaani Kohok explores why storing and displaying human remains in museums is so contentious. Many human remains in medical museums were obtained without the consent of the people they were removed from: curators like Carla Valentine of the Barts Pathology Museum in London argue that they should be preserved because they tell a story of the history of medicine, and may still be useful for scientific study. Bob Weatherall has been campaigning for decades to get museums to return remains of Aboriginal Australians to their communities of origin so they can be respectfully laid to rest. Chip Colwell, curator of Anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, explains how museums in America have reacted to calls for the repatriation of Native American human remains. Alice Dreger, historian and philosopher of anatomy, believes that museums should consider whether some repatriation claims could result in a loss of scientific learning. J Nathan Bazzel donated his hip bones to a museum after they were surgically removed. (Photo: Barts Museum, Credit: Carla Valentine, Courtesy of Pathology Museum at Queen Mary University London)


News has a powerful pull. We spend so much of our time checking it, absorbing it and talking about it. And some of us even claim to be addicted to it. But why, asks David Baker, do we need news in the first place? So much of what goes on in the world is beyond our control and hearing about it can just make us more depressed. Would we be better off just disconnecting from the news? Or is it part of our civic duty to be informed? And is news really just another form of entertainment – a modern-day version of that basic human pleasure of swapping stories around the campfire? (Photo: Men sit with paper and phone, Credit:


On trains, in cafes, offices and in the street, we cannot help overhearing conversations not intended for our ears. Catherine Carr explores why we eavesdrop, and whether it is a harmless habit or a dangerous invasion of privacy. The poet Imtiaz Dharker takes ‘furtive pleasure’ in ‘lying in wait for secrets that people don’t even know they’re telling’ and sometimes what she hears ends up in her poems. Canadian journalist, Jackie Hong, eavesdropped on the radio communications of police and paramedics to get the news in real time. Not everything we hear in public is interesting to us: Lauren Emberson devised a psychology experiment to show why we find other people’s mobile phone conversations so difficult to ignore. In some circumstances, eavesdropping can be problematic. The historian Anita Krätzner-Ebert, who works at the Stasi Records Agency, has been conducting new research into cases of neighbours and strangers who eavesdropped and reported on each other in East Germany. Professor of Acoustic Engineering, Trevor Cox explains how some buildings have allowed embarrassing secrets to be overheard and literary scholar, Ann Gaylin says that eavesdropping scenes in novels show writers have always been curious about human curiosity. (Photo: Woman cupping ear, Credit: Dmitro Derevyanko/Shutterstock)

Why Raise Other People's Children?  

Raising children is demanding. It takes time, money and devotion. So, why would anyone want to raise another person’s child? In this edition of the Why Factor, Mary-Ann Ochota, explores what it means to be a parent. Can mothers who adopt or foster have the same connection to their children as a birth mother would? And, what does it say about human society that we choose to take in the offspring of others? (Photo: Family, Credit: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

Sign Language  

Every country in the world has at least one Sign Language. Each is a complete communication system with its own grammar, lexicon and structure and has evolved over centuries, just like their verbal counterparts. Although many have legal status under disability legislation, only four have been given the status of a recognised official language. But not everyone who is deaf uses sign language, and not everyone who uses sign language is deaf. There is a debate in deaf communities as to whether they have ‘hearing loss’ or ‘deaf gain’ Why do some people view deafness as a disability, while others celebrate it as a cultural inheritance? Some deaf rights campaigners say that Sign language is a signifier of belonging to a Deaf community, with a rich cultural legacy. But does the choice to use hearing aids and cochlear implants to help use verbal language really mean a rejection a deaf culture and a deaf identity – or a practical way to integrate with a predominantly hearing world? (Image: Smiling mother signing with child, Credit: Andrey Popov/Shutterstock) Presenter: Lee Kumutat

Why Do Some People Crave the Limelight?  

We sweat; we feel sick and even shake when we’re faced with the limelight. Our bodies release stress hormones and begin fight or flight response. So why then do some people crave the limelight so badly? Presenter Jordan Dunbar undergoes an experiment to find out what the limelight does to our bodies, to get a chemical answer. We speak with an historian of Fame, Leo Braudy, to hear how Alexander The Great started it all and how he used the Ancient Greek version of twitter to let everyone know how ‘great’ he was. We meet a Celebrity Psychologist, Dr Arthur Cassidy who reveals that attention is hardwired into our brains and how social media get us hooked as well as telling us why we want attention so badly. Star of 52 reality television shows Lisa Appleton knows a thing or two about the limelight, she talks about the main reason behind her search for fame. Rainbow Riots is a group of performers who highlight the injustices happening to the LGBT community around the world. They have come together from some of the most dangerous countries in the world to be gay. Kowa is a performer from Kampala who tells us why she’s willing to risk her life to bring attention to her struggle. George Bamby is an infamous paparazzo, a celebrity photographer who controls the limelight and he tell us what the world behind the camera is like. You’ll never look at the celebrity magazines in the same way again. We’ll find out the reasons behind the obsession with fame and the limelight around the world. Music by Petter Wallenberg and Rainbow Riots (Photo: Presenter Jordan Dunbar performing / Photo credit: Prague Fringe Festival )

Male Violence  

Anybody who watched the European Championships of football last summer in France would have seen shocking scenes of violence between fans. The vast majority, if not all, were men. Men also commit more than 90% of murders across the world and are more likely to join a gang. Why are men more violent than women? Caroline Bayley speaks to ex-football hooligan Cass Pennant about his experiences and motivation when violence became his way of life. Former British Army officer Jane Middleton explains the differences between men and women on the battlefield when she served in Afghanistan. And, Caroline also hears views from Sweden about how equal violence between men and women in relationships is. (Photo: Group of football fans fighting in street. Credit: Carl Court/Getty Images)


With increasing numbers of Westerners opting to have smaller families, some go one step further and decide to have no children at all. As a result they often face suspicion, abuse even, for being selfish or materialistic. Women, in particular, who decide to go childless, experience the full force of this near-universal stigma. Mary-Ann Ochota speaks to people who’ve made this often lonely decision. Presenter: Mary-Ann Ochota Producer: Rose de Larrabeiti (Photo: Empty old swings, Credit: Chailuk Chalathai/Shutterstock)

The Kiss  

Why Do humans Kiss? You might think it is a universal trait, something that we all do. But when European explorers travelled the world, they met tribes that didn’t kiss. So is it a learnt response after all? It can be as a greeting, or a sign of reverence or supplication- but we will be talking about the romantic kiss- face to face, lips to lips. We examine the biochemistry, psychology, anthropology and history of kissing. Where does it come from? (Image of two women kissing at a festival, credit AFP/Getty Images)


When many people struggle to maintain one relationship, why do some people enter into multiple simultaneous marriages? Lucy Ash speaks to polygamists around the world to find out why they were drawn to these complex arrangements and how they manage them. Lucy hears about rotas, hierarchies and curfews from the stars of a popular South African reality TV show about a businessman, his four wives and their ten children. The creator of a dating website in Gaza explains why many of his clients are looking for second or third wives. A woman who left her Mormon plural marriage in the American state of Utah tells how having to share her husband with a sister wife had a devastating impact on her mental health. What about polyandry – one woman marrying multiple men? Anthropologist Katie Starkweather explains why some societies have favoured it. (Photo: Models on wedding cake, Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Returning Home  

Why do foreign migrants yearn to go home and what happens when they do? Some have had no choice, but others are influenced by nostalgia for their early lives. Or sometimes by disillusionment with their adopted country. When they go back, can the old country live up to their hopes and dreams? Shivaani hears emotional tales from those returning to Jamaica, Sierra Leone, India and Ghana. (Image: Empire Windrush, Credit: Getty Images)


All over the world this summer young people are sitting exams which will have a big impact on their future. In some places, a single exam might determine whether and where candidates go on to university, their future earning potential, and even their marriage prospects. Given the stakes, it is easy to see why so many cultures place great importance on exam success. However, is this one-size-fits-all approach to assessment really a good judge of ability and understanding? Or do exam results only tell us about a candidate’s ability to memorise material and perform under stressful exam conditions? Caroline Bayley meets the educators and experts defending traditional exams and those coming up with alternative models of assessment. Tony Wagner from the Harvard Innovation Lab in the US thinks traditional exams will become obsolete in the future as work places change their hiring criteria. Mike Thomas, Vice Chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire in the UK explains why exams can have a negative impact on mental health. Dr Chun-yen Chang from National Taiwan Normal University has conducted research into whether there might be a gene that determines how well we think under exam conditions. Producers Lizzy McNeill and Viv Jones (Image: Students take exams for University, Credit: bibiphoto/Shutterstock)


We all experience negative emotions and find different ways to cope – maybe by exercising or by listening to music. But some people deliberately inflict pain on themselves as a way of managing how they feel. Why? Experts believe 15% of adolescents self-injure at least once, with some children as young as 9 using self-injury as a coping mechanism, albeit an unhealthy one. The behaviour can lead to feelings of guilt and distress; family and friends often don’t know how to help. Catherine Carr explores the impact self-harming has on those who do it and those close to them. She speaks to Matthew Nock, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University who explains the type of person most at risk of engaging in self-injury and the reasons why they use it to regulate their emotions. News reporter, Aidan Radnedge, describes why he began self-harming at university; and how his family and friends have given unstinting support throughout his road to recovery. Writer and editor, Janelle Harris, explains what it was like to discover that her daughter, Skylar, was self-harming aged 11. Now 18 and having graduated from high school, Skylar is no longer injuring herself and is looking forward to going to college next year. Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Priory Group of mental health hospitals and clinics in the UK, offers advice for parents on how to react if their children are self-harming – and offers alternative coping strategies for those struggling to deal with their feelings. If you’ve been affected by the issues in this programme, please visit the following websites for support and advice: Befrienders Worldwide: Samaritans: LifeSIGNS: Talk Life: Presenter: Catherine Carr Producer: Sally Abrahams (Image: Sad beautiful girl, Credit: Wayhome studio/Shutterstock)

Why Do We Talk To Ourselves?  

We all do it – sometimes. It can be embarrassing or just the way we organise our thoughts, a tool for remembering what is important. Sarah Outen, who spent four and a half years rowing, cycling and kayaking around the planet, says talking to herself, out loud, may have saved her life on more than one occasion. The actor, Steve Delaney, has created an alternate persona, Count Arthur Strong, whose most vivid character trait is talking to himself. We all have more wisdom than we dare to think we’ve got, according the psychotherapist Philippa Perry, it’s just a matter of speaking it. In this edition of the Why Factor, Matthew Sweet asks who are we talking to when we talk to ourselves. (Photo: A man talks to himself in the mirror. Credit to Getty Images)

Thankless Tasks  

Why take on a role where lots of people hate you for doing it? Dotun Adebayo talks to people whose daily life can include verbal and even physical abuse. They include an 18 year old referee in Manchester who has been head-butted and spat upon. He hears about electricity workers in Lagos in Nigeria who are regularly beaten up as they disconnect disgruntled customers. And the plus side of doing a thankless job from a debt collector in Jamaica and death row lawyers in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. (Photo: Man at top of pole fixing electric cables. Credit: Umar Shehu Elleman, BBC journalist)

Are you a numbers person?  

Some people are numbers people – and some are not. One meltdown moment in the classroom is often all it takes to put people off maths for life. But, when you lose the ability to interrogate numbers, it makes it easier to be fooled by fancy figures. In this edition of The Why Factor, Timandra Harkness asks why people are intimidated by numbers. (Image: Frightened looking man surrounded by numbers. Credit: Wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)


Why would anyone be a goth? What is the appeal of this dark and spooky subculture that embraces death, pain and sadness? Goths have been attacked, abused and are often misunderstood, but still choose to stand out – dramatically - from the crowd. Catherine Carr talks to goths about their music, their dress and their love of the darker side of life. Why has this scene that began in the UK in the late 1970s and has spread worldwide, adapted and endured? She hears from gothic vlogger, Black Friday, about how others react to her striking style and that of her goth husband, Matthius; she learns from Dr Catherine Spooner of Lancaster University about the role and influence of gothic literature in the goth scene and finds out from Professor Isabella Van Elferen of Kingston University, London about the transcendental power of goth music. Catherine talks to gothic blogger, La Carmina, about the extraordinary and extreme goth scene in Japan that includes body modifications; Dr Paul Hodkinson of Surrey University explains the enduring appeal of the subculture and why once a goth, you’re always a goth. And she meets Sylvia Lancaster, whose daughter Sophie, a goth, was murdered because of the way she looked. Presenter: Catherine Carr Producer: Sally Abrahams (Photo: Black Friday and husband Matthius. Credit: BBC Copyright)


How do you start your day? It’s a more complicated question than you think – and that’s because you don’t think about it very much. Quite a lot of what we do, we do every day. We create order by forming habits. From the way we brush our teeth to how we drive a car, ride a bike even tie our shoelaces – these are things we do every day without thinking. And it is a good thing we do because if we had to make multiple choices for every single simple activity our brains would just clog up. But, there are good habits and bad habits. Ones that help us through the day and ones we can not control. Shiulie Ghosh explains the difference between these behaviours and why, one way or another, we are all creatures of habit. (Photo: New Habits v Old Habits Credit: Shutterstock)

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