The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity

The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity

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by Paul J. Zak
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. Agent: Linda Loewenthal, David Black Literary Agency. (May)
From the Publisher
"The Moral Molecule is an engaging popular account of Mr. Zak's decade of intense research into how oxytocin evolved for one purpose-pair bonding and attachment in social mammals-but had the bonus effect of cementing a sense of trust among strangers."
Michael Shermer, The Wall Street Journal

"One of the best popular science books I've read this year."
Brian Clegg, Popular Science

"Explaining his use of cutting-edge research to undercut Gordon Gekko's infamous mantra ('Greed is good'), Zak is engaging, entertaining, and profound."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Stimulating...he demonstrates the intriguing possibility that oxytocin orchestrates the generous and caring behavior we endorse as moral."
Publishers Weekly

"What's great about reading this book is not just that you feel yourself relieved at shedding the notion that our behavior is purely selfinterested and not just that you get a clear idea of how this clearly important molecule works but that you're entertainingly taken through Mr. Zak's experiments, thus getting a terrific view of the scientific process."
Library Journal

"Paul Zak's investigations into the best things in life are inspired, rigorous, and tremendous fun. We need more daring economists like him."
Tyler Cowen, author of The Great Stagnation and An Economist Gets Lunch

"Paul-Zak tells the remarkable story of how he discovered and explored the biochemistry of sympathy, love, and trust with the narrative skill of a novelist. Philosophy, economics, and biology have never been so entertaining."
Matt Ridley, author of Genome and The Rational Optimist, on Zak's oxytocin research

"An ancient mammalian molecule prods us to bond with others. Paul Zak offers a most engaging account of this important discovery, bound to overthrow traditional thinking about human behavior, including economics and morality."
Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy

"Zak's scientific quest is to understand what makes people trust one another."
Kayte Sukel, Big Think

"Zak is an expert on how trust is a key ingredient to the success of economies and trust is related to oxytocin. It is highly entertaining and thought provoking."
Cyril Morong, The Dangerous Economist

"This is an important book. Empathy, cooperation, trusting, heroism, stinginess, skepticism, anger, tough mindedness: Paul Zak unpacks these and other deeply human feelings with his pioneering research into brain chemistry and his keen journalist eye-exposing the dignity (and treachery) within our common human nature. You will never think about lobsters, gossip, 'butt slapping' footballers, middle management, or the recent housing bubble fiasco the same way again. It's a 'must know' and a great read."
Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love

Kirkus Reviews
Zak (Economic Psychology and Management/Claremont Graduate Univ.; Moral Markets: the Critical Role of Values in the Economy, 2008, etc.) explores a surprising link among neuroscience, morality and economic success. The author explains how an encounter with anthropologist Helen Fisher in 2000 transformed the direction of his work. He was dissatisfied with the notion that calculating rational self-interest was the basis for individual decision-making. Fisher suggested that he examine the role of brain chemistry in economic as well as intimate relationships—e.g., the way in which oxytocin (the "cuddle hormone") facilitates mother/child bonding at the time of birth and provides the basis for trust later in life. Although he was at first ridiculed by colleagues, Zak began a series of experiments based on the "Trust Game." The game has many variations, but basically all subjects are given $10 for participation and then divided into two groups. Group A gets the opportunity to give part of their money to someone in group B, with the understanding that the amount would be tripled. How much the original donor gives is based on his expectation of the extent to which it will be reciprocated. Zak added the twist of testing donors and recipients for oxytocin levels and found a high correlation. He believes his research to have demonstrated that oxytocin is "the key to moral behavior." Because it triggers the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, it creates a "motivational pathway" for empathy, intimate bonding and trusting social relationships that give people emotional satisfaction. This influences their economic decisions, a process the author calls a "physiological version of the Golden Rule." Explaining his use of cutting-edge research to undercut Gordon Gekko's infamous mantra ("Greed is good"), Zak is engaging, entertaining and profound.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780525952817
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
05/10/2012
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
6.24(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.03(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"This is an important book. Empathy, cooperation, trusting, heroism, stinginess, skepticism, anger, tough mindedness: Paul Zak unpacks these and other deeply human feelings with his pioneering research into brain chemistry and his keen journalist eye—exposing the dignity (and treachery) within our common human nature. You will never think about lobsters, gossip, 'butt slapping' footballers, middle management, or the recent housing bubble fiasco the same way again. It's a 'must know' and a great read."
—Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love

Meet the Author

PAUL J. ZAK, Ph.D., is professor of economic psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University. As the founding director of Claremont's Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, he is at the vanguard of neuroeconomics, a new discipline that integrates neuroscience and economics. He has a popular Pyschology Today blog called The Moral Molecule. He makes numerous media appearances, and his research has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Scientific American, Fast Company, and many others.

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