Behavioral Grooves Podcast

Dessa: The Attention Shepherd on the Curious Act of Being Deeply Human

March 7, 2021

Dessa is a singer, rapper, writer, speaker, science and philosophy connoisseur, podcast host, and ice cream flavor inventor. (Her flavor is Dessa’s Existential Crunch which consists of crème fraîche, brown sugar ice cream, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Disaronno Amaretto Liqueur, and a cashew and praline pecan brittle crunch).

Dessa has made a career of bucking genres and defying expectations — her résumé as a musician includes being part of the Doomtree collective, a solo artist with performances at Lollapalooza and Glastonbury, co-composer of pieces for 100-voice choir, performances with the Minnesota Orchestra, and top-200 entries on the Billboard charts. She also contributed to the #1 album The Hamilton Mixtape.

As a writer, she published a memoir-in-essays called My Own Devices which was released in 2018 in addition to two literary collections along with many articles in journals such as The New York Times and National Geographic Traveler.

And now she is the host of a new podcast that explores “why we do the things we do” called Deeply Human. The podcast is a fun exploration of a number of topics and brings in experts to help explain why we behave the way we do.

We wanted to talk to Dessa before we knew about her podcast. Here is part of the e-mail that we sent to her publicist to ask for an interview:

“While it may seem a bit off-brand for us to ask for an interview with Dessa, we think that it would be fascinating, and we’d love to talk to her about the intersection of music and emotion.   While we typically interview behavioral science researchers and practitioners, we often interview what we call “accidental behavioral scientists.”  These are people who are applying the aspects of behavioral science to their work without really knowing that they are doing it. Dessa captures a lot of our human experience in her lyrics and discussing that would be a wonderful way of exploring this concept. We would also love to talk to her about her experience with the scientific fMRI research that she talks about in her essay, “Call of your ghost.”

Our conversation with Dessa examined a wide range of topics – moving from her podcast, to music’s ability to create synchronicity between people, to how we can’t compare subjective experiences, to how emotional connection comes from dropping veils and getting out of our “practiced mirror face.” 

This is an episode that you definitely don’t want to miss.

© 2021 Behavioral Grooves



Dessa: or

Deeply Human: wherever you get your podcasts from


The Diary of Ann Frank:

Alan Alda:

Helen Fisher:

Barry Schwartz:






Penijean Gracefire:

Cheryl Olman:



Harry Haslow – Wire Monkey experiments:

Research on Emotion and Narrative -

Drummer Boy (Military):

“Rock ’n’ Roll but not Sex or Drugs: Music is negatively correlated to depressive symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic via reward-related mechanisms”:

Pew Research (2016) The Joy and Urgency of Learning:

Common Biases and Heuristics: 


Musical Links

Dessa “Fighting Fish”:

Dessa “The Chaconne” (Kurt’s favorite version of the song with Aby Wolf and Jeremy Messersmith):

London Bulgarian Choir:

Lady Midnight “Bloodsong”:

Chopin’s Mazurkas:

Erik Satie “Gymnopédie No. 1”:

“Hamilton” soundtrack:

“Hamilton Mix Tape”:

Dessa Live -

Mayada “Haydn Sonata in D”:

Chopin “Mazurka Op. 68 n. 2”:

Yann Tiersen “La valse d'Amélie”:

Tim Houlihan “I Get Lonesome, Too”: neither hosts nor alters podcast files. All content © its respective owners.