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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Human beings can be so compassionate — and yet they can also be shockingly cruel. What if there was a hidden master control for human behavior? Switch it on and people are loving and generous. Switch it off and they revert to violence and greed. Pioneering neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak has discovered just such a master switch, a molecule in the human brain.

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Overview

Human beings can be so compassionate — and yet they can also be shockingly cruel. What if there was a hidden master control for human behavior? Switch it on and people are loving and generous. Switch it off and they revert to violence and greed. Pioneering neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak has discovered just such a master switch, a molecule in the human brain.

The Moral Molecule is a firsthand account of this discovery, revealing how evolution built the Golden Rule into our biology. From his laboratory in California to the jungles of Papua New Guinea, Zak takes you on an amazing and exciting journey to what it means to be human.

Zak’s experiments — what science writer Matt Ridley called “the most revealing in the history of economics” — measure a brain chemical called oxytocin found in the bloodstream. His colleagues sometimes call him the vampire economist. His research team has taken blood from thousands of people as they made decisions with money in the lab, played football out on the field, jumped from an airplane, attended a wedding, and many other situations in which human interactions take place. Ascending from molecules to families to entire societies,
Zak’s findings reveal how oxytocin can produce a virtuous cycle of love and prosperity.

The Moral Molecule is a journey well beyond common theories about why we make the decisions we do. Zak explains what underlies the great mysteries of human behavior — why some husbands are more faithful than others; why women tend to be more generous than men; why we are sometimes rational and other times irrational. He explores the role of religion in moral behavior, how the moral molecule operates in the marketplace, and — most important, once we understand the moral molecule — how we can consciously use it to make our own lives better.

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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:
9781455892273
Publisher:
Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
05/10/2012
Edition description:
Unabridged
Product dimensions:
5.37(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.50(d)

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, Phd, is a professor of economics, management, and psychology at Claremont Graduate University. He is the founding director of Claremont’s Center for Neuroeconomics Studies. His Psychology Today blog is also titled The Moral Molecule. He lives in Southern California.

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The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a biologist, I was very disappointed in this book. It seems that the author, an economist, feels that he is an expert in multiple fields and therefore can expound on them. One precept he is unaware of is "Correlation does not imply causation". Even if his experiments were set up without confounding variables. his conclusions are meaningless. He is looking to prove his hypothesis. In real science, the hypothesis is what we try to disprove. If it is not disproved, the hypothesis may be true.  My criticisms include poorly set up experiments (all the subjects are in the same room and they discuss their results with each other afterwards? This might not influence their behavior? Zak stated that "no one knew the subjects' identities" on page 13), really basic errors (poor editing or just ignorance?) such as defining "neoteny" incorrectly, listing the wrong temperature of "dry ice" (pg 11), disproved statements about "subliminal messages" (pg 178, see Chabris and Simons), etc. Zak does not have a good grasp of basic evolutionary theory and makes a common mistake, stating that evolution "selects against", when in reality, evolution can only "select for". The tone of the book is very conversational, yet he tries to sound like uber-scientist. It feels like he is "talking down" to the reader, yet he fills the pages with mistakes which call the entire premise into question. He does not explain how testing plasma oxytocin relates to CNS oxytocin when the molecule is unable to cross the blood-brain barrier. The author would do well to stick to his area of expertise and avoid trying to include biological theory.