A Revolution in the Science of Good and Evil
Why do some people give freely while others are cold hearted?
Why do some people cheat and steal while others you can trust with your life?
Why are some husbands more faithful than others—and why do women tend to be more generous than men?
Could they key to moral behavior lie with a single molecule?
From the bucolic English countryside to the highlands of Papua New Guinea, from labs in Switzerland to his campus in Souther California, Dr. Paul Zak recounts his extraordinary stories and sets out, for the first time, his revolutionary theory of moral behavior. Accessible and electrifying, The Moral Molecule reveals nothing less than the origins of our most human qualities—empathy, happiness, and the kindness of strangers.
Is it possible to locate a single biological element that might explain why some people are good and others are evil? Economic psychologist and neuroscientist Zak (Claremont Graduate University) says "yes" in a book that is by turns stimulating and reductionist. Starting in 2001, he and his colleagues conducted experiments on men and women in various countries and economic circumstances, isolating a single chemical oxytocin as the key to moral behavior. Oxytocin is known primarily as a female hormone responsible for the peaceful attention that mothers give to newborns during breastfeeding. Testosterone blocks oxytocin, which Zak presents as explaining gender differences in cooperative behavior; he also explains why trauma victims have trouble connecting emotionally: oxytocin production is shut down, as it is from early childhood abuse or neglect. Through his experiments, Zak discovers that a simple sign of trust from one person can trigger a surge of oxytocin in someone else, eliciting trusting behavior in return. Zak admits that other factors play a role in fashioning morality. Even so, he demonstrates the intriguing possibility that oxytocin orchestrates the generous and caring behavior we all endorse as moral.
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A thrilling read!
I found Dr Zak's book intriguing, easy to read, clear to understand. He portrayed his emotions well, with plenty of examples to backup his theories throughout the novel. This is the first time I've ever been formally introduced to the science of Neuro-Economics.
As a recent university graduate in the field of Economics, I was a firm believer in the ideals I was taught, especially that of rational self interest. After graduating, I fell in love with the ideas of minimalism, moral sentiments, and behavioral economics as the approach to boosting my well being.
I went back to the basics, which involve what I believe are some of the core necessities of life and made those my focal point towards pursuing happiness: Respect, security, health, character. I buy far less, if any, consumer products for myself. I give to others and don't ask for anything in return. I only engage in collaborative consumption with close friends, which builds a stronger sense of friendship. On average I am far less stressed, and have more discretionary income than before!
We live in an imperfect world, and some days are easier than others. I can notice the difference in my attitude, for example, when I'm adrenaline driven vs oxytocin driven. I could never understand it before, but Dr. Zak's novel put everything into perspective, and has made a change in my personal life.