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 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 )


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 (Image: I don't want kids graffiti, Credit: M-Sur/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 that’s 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’t control. Shiulie Ghosh explains the difference between these behaviors and why, one way or another, we are all creatures of habit. (Photo: New Habits vs Old Habits Credit: Shutterstock)


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)

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