Streams

Oxytocin: The Moral Molecule

Monday, May 14, 2012

Paul Zak tells us about oxytocin, a chemical messenger that accounts for why some people are generous, trustworthy, and faithful and others aren’t. His book The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity looks at decades of research on what oxytocin is and how it works.  

Guests:

Paul Zak

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Comments [33]

Ludwig Popper from Northern Europe

Some of the comments are brilliant and saved me the time and fatigue it most probably would cause to listen to doktor professor emeritus Paul "Paulo Coelho" Zak. The basics of science of philosophy could and should be taught to children at school. Complexity is great fun!

May. 14 2012 05:00 PM
brooklynmom78 from Park Slope, Brooklyn

Another interesting note: Studies have shown that Testosterone driven men with high IQs are generally socially responsible, wheras those with lower IQs tend to be the ones who commit crimes and are crowding our prisons, which proves again that cortical influence counts. Testosterone influence in women tends to be more related with the sex impetus, and is less related to hostility/aggression.

May. 14 2012 01:20 PM
George from NY

Hi everyone,
it's George the guy who mentioned COROLLARY VERSUS CAUSATION. I would like to add that I mention this NOT because of any affection for religion, but purely because Paul J. Jak seems to be making dramatic leaps..assertions which even the least of which would be hard to prove to me, a molecular imaging specialist. At first glance, it appears to be fun speculation..but poorly founded science.

May. 14 2012 01:03 PM
anna from new york

Of course, I was right. Another one illiterate, arrogant and primitive geek.
I tend to repeat that geeks shouldn't be allowed to vote. I recently dealt with another geeky Ph.D. (astrophysics) who went to North Korea, returned and declared as intended that there is no difference between North Korea and the US, he communicated so well with North Koreans and that we just have to embrace each other and hug. No, he doesn't know Korean (and any other language and culture), no he doesn't know Korean history (and any other history), no, he doesn't know Korean society (and any other society)

May. 14 2012 12:58 PM
anna from new york

"This is some messy messy science"
It isn't science, it's manipulation.

May. 14 2012 12:52 PM
John A.

I share Everyone else's horror over the cause/effect confusion. Clearly we need more causes for morality in society - the ironic result of pursuits like Zaks' could be more people ditching church for the doctor's syringe.

May. 14 2012 12:50 PM
GW from Manhattan

One person's "morality or amorality" is not suitable for others Hey folks! Keep your damn morals to your self!

May. 14 2012 12:47 PM
John A.

Wouldn't it be more interesting to compare a similar pleasure molecule dopamine, with oxytocin to see why the former seems to converge to oxytocin's opposite - towards amoral pursuits?

May. 14 2012 12:37 PM

This is some messy messy science, granted. BUT, that doesn't mean he isn't on to something important.

May. 14 2012 12:37 PM
ldm from Brooklyn

Does Dr. Zak believe that administering oxytocin to sociopaths will cause them to feel empathy? Or do they lack they neural groundwork for empathy?

May. 14 2012 12:35 PM
anna from new york

Natalia, exactly. He is not familiar with such concepts as religion, God, ethics, society, etc. This is terrifying.

May. 14 2012 12:35 PM
brooklynmom78 from Park Slope, Brooklyn

Agree with the comment about corollary vs. causality. Also, experience counts. No matter how much oxytocin you're pumped up with, if you'll come behave a certain way and expect a certain behavior from people due to experience. It may make a small temporary difference, but the cerebral cortex matters. Re: social darwinism: it's apparent that our current economy is testosterone fueled, so there goes that argument. Plus, oxytocin is probably not adaptable when people around you are not oxytocin driven.

May. 14 2012 12:34 PM
brooklynmom78 from Park Slope, Brooklyn

Agree with the comment about corollary vs. causality. Also, experience counts. No matter how much oxytocin you're pumped up with, if you'll come behave a certain way and expect a certain behavior from people due to experience. It may make a small temporary difference, but the cerebral cortex matters. Re: social darwinism: it's apparent that our current economy is testosterone fueled, so there goes that argument. Plus, oxytocin is probably not adaptable when people around you are not oxytocin driven.

May. 14 2012 12:33 PM
Sarah from NYC

What about the use of MDMA as therapy for low oxytocin?

May. 14 2012 12:33 PM
Polli from Rumson, NJ

Just heard This American Life story this weekend about psychopathy, and then read the disturbing story about children who may be psychopaths. Links below. What about them?

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/magazine/can-you-call-a-9-year-old-a-psychopath.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/436/the-psychopath-test

May. 14 2012 12:33 PM
anna from new york

No, this is really beyond belief.
This guy never heard the words "religion" and "God" if he keeps repeating his brilliant question: "Why do we do good things when nobody is watching?"
These are your geniuses, America.

May. 14 2012 12:33 PM
SA from Queens

GOD! so Berny Madoff "scammed" some greedy idiots and he is brought up like the new Hitler at every opportunity Leonard gets? LIke the people that invested with him should be exonerated because they wanted to get even more rich quicker and he fed that greed?

May. 14 2012 12:32 PM
brooklynmom78

Agree with the comment about corollary vs. causality. Also, experience counts. No matter how much oxytocin you're pumped up with, if you'll come behave a certain way and expect a certain behavior from people due to experience. It may make a small temporary difference, but the cerebral cortex matters.

May. 14 2012 12:31 PM
anne johnston

does any of this relate to people with aspergers?

May. 14 2012 12:30 PM
Natalia Sucre from Brooklyn, New York

Isn't it dangerous to say that all the answers to moral questions lie in our body's chemistry? When you talk about experiments involving punishing "bad behavior," for example, you assume that someone--you--know exactly what bad behavior is and that there would be no debate on the question. That seems to belie the whole field of ethics and is also extraordinarily normative.

May. 14 2012 12:28 PM
anna from new york

Did this moron have an hour of history in his live. Did anyone told him that die Kommandantinnen were as compassionate as die Kommandanten (explain also ... slowly what I have in mind)

May. 14 2012 12:26 PM
Dan from Inwood

It would just be nice if Lopate would stop interrupting for once & let the guy finish a sentence.

May. 14 2012 12:26 PM
Gretchen` from Ridgefield C T

So far I haven't heard your guest make a case for causality between oxytocin and trust/kindness- just that the chemical exists in higher levels in those who are kind/trusting. Has he actually injected people with oxytocin to see if it makes them more trusting and kind?

May. 14 2012 12:24 PM
anna from new york

Enough is enough. American geniuses have given the world negative eugenics and "trickle down." Now this "one" bubbles whatever he bubbles (just to distract and .. be paid handsomely)

May. 14 2012 12:23 PM
Em

As usual the cart is put before the horse. He in no way has proved that the chemical is an initiator as opposed to a consequence of volition. We are at far too early a stage of understanding the processes of cognition to make these wide sweeping statements, and this sort of thing helps bring science further into disrepute. His social-Darwinian arguments are culturally biased and obviously a product of his upbringing. They have nothing to do with biology.

May. 14 2012 12:21 PM
JM from Manhattan

This is the basis of men's perchance for prostitution, promiscuity, and the "girlfriend experience" when you are able to meet a stranger and they trust you and you trust them and you engage in acts so intimate so quickly ... there is something very rewarding in a positive way about that. This is my approach to sex with "strangers" they are not strangers but fellow beings to fall in love with ... even for a short time...

May. 14 2012 12:20 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

How does your guest feel about the way the Spartans raised their kids?

May. 14 2012 12:19 PM
Debbie from nyc

Do women who are more self-centered/selfish have higher levels of testosterone and/or lower levels of oxytocin?

May. 14 2012 12:19 PM
Kevin H. from Mamaroneck, NY

Do violent video games increase levels of testosterone, and therefore counter-act the effects of oxytocin?

May. 14 2012 12:18 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

My mother, who was a psychologist, said I have an overdeveloped superego. Does that mean that I have too much oxytocin?

May. 14 2012 12:16 PM
Amy from Manhattan

When Mr. Zak talks about the level of trust in a country, does he mean the average (median or mean?) of its entire population? How do you measure that?

May. 14 2012 12:15 PM
sher from lower Manhattan

Please ask him how presence of oxytocin interacts with MIRROR Neurons, related to empathy?

May. 14 2012 12:15 PM

Where are Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould when we need them?!

Or Philip Kitcher or Paul Churchland or Hilary Putnam?

The Cult of Reductionism is alive and well in the incoherent thinking of the Paul Zaks, Daniel Dennetts, and on and on.

May. 14 2012 12:09 PM

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