[email protected] Paul Zak on “The Moral Molecule”

Authors@ Paul Zak on “The Moral Molecule”


>>Paul Zak: Here at Google London. This book
is about 10 years of my life trying to figure out why people are good and evil. That’s the
longest debate since humans have been having debates, right? Are we good, are we evil?
And, of course, the answer is we’re both. But that doesn’t really help us. The question
is why, right? Why would I ever behave in a way that’s compassionate or kind or why
would I behave in a way that’s cruel or aggressive? So, let me start out by telling you a little
about two women. One of them maybe you’ve heard of, one of them you didn’t. The first
picture is from a crime scene. This crime was perpetrated by a woman that I interviewed
in a San Diego county jail in California. So to picture her she’s wearing an orange
jumpsuit, her hands are shackled in front of her to her legs and she was a 25 year old,
long time meth user. So that tells you when she started using meth and she had served
a prison term for possession of meth amphetamine and then was sent to a halfway house. So,
kind of transition her back into life. In this halfway house were 4 women living together,
so 3 women and her. And it had a shared kitchen and living space. And she and these other
women kept on having these clashes. So one day in the kitchen, the prisoner I’m talking
to, decides to stab her roommate 22 times and let her bleed to death on the kitchen
floor. So we’re going through this long interview, you know, when’d you first start using drugs?
Your family history? And I finally, she’s already plead to murder so she’s agreed that
she killed that lady and so I said, “Why’d you kill this woman?” “Ah, she bugged me.”
As if she’s a fly that she’s swatting on the wall. Okay, case 2, this is a picture from
the 1930s, again a woman who is about 25 years old at the time and her name is Agnes Bojaxhiu
and she’s Albanian. She’s from a fairly wealthy family. At age 18 she decides she’s gonna
leave home and join a convent called the Sisters of Loretto. It’s gonna be very important,
there’s a quiz at the end of this talk, so remember Sisters of Loretto cause it’s gonna
be a key part of my story. So she goes to England for training, she goes to Ireland,
then she’s posted to India where she spends her entire career ministering to the poor,
the sick, the untouchables as Mother Theresa. She never returned home again, never saw her
family, never saw her siblings, she dedicated her whole life to helping other people. So
how do we get both those behaviors within the human species? Killing people like they’re
nothing and reaching out. So flip that around, think of your own lives, right, you all look
like pretty nice people, a couple of the guys in the back I’m not too sure about but the
rest of you look pretty good. So how can you, yourself, go from being nice, relaxed, kind,
smiling to being aggressive, grumpy, nasty? How does that switch occur? And so scientists
have studied for a long time the nasty part, the aggression, the fear, because that gets
huge responses in the brain. But I wanted to ask the other question. What modulates
us to be more like Mother Theresa, more compassionate, more kind to reach out to others?>>Paul Zak: And this took me on a 10 year
journey. And I’ll tell you a little about that. But before I do I want to give you an
idea of some of the fun experiments that we’ve run, not just in a laboratory, but in the
field. So this one happened right here in England and I have a short video.
[Cheering]>>female on video: Most people plan to make
their wedding special but this wedding in Southern England was a first for science.
Nick and Linda had invited researcher, Paul Zak, to take blood samples from them and their
guests. It was a chance to find out what goes on in people’s bodies during this momentous
bonding event.>>Paul Zak: The value of doing this as a field
study is that we have an actual real life event. So this way we actually go in, in a
very natural setting, a wedding with a hundred people, some of which knew each other, some
of which didn’t know each other.>>female on video: Thirteen people, including
the bride and groom, had their blood drawn before and after the couple took their vows.
Zak wanted to find out if there would be a rise in their oxytocin, a hormone associated
with love, trust and bonding.>>Paul Zak: We thought maybe during this wedding
ceremony people are bonding to each other and they’re actually releasing oxytocin. So
we measured oxytocin and we also measured a cluster of other hormones that were also
associated with reproduction.>>female on video: Zak found that the couple
and close family members>>female on video: had more extreme changes
in oxytocin.>>Paul Zak: Linda had the biggest spike in
oxytocin, a 28 percent increase in oxytocin before and after her vows. So she’s really
feeling the love. Who’s next? The bride’s mother, of course the bride’s mother is very
engaged emotionally, and then the groom’s father, and then the groom. And then further
out are just some random friends that we pulled.>>female on video: Testosterone is linked
to sex drive and studies have found that drops when men fall in love. Zak expected this to
happen at the wedding, too. But results proved otherwise.>>Paul Zak: We also found that testosterone
levels were flat for all the men we tested except for the groom. So, immediately after
the vows, his testosterone levels doubled from beforehand. Why is that? He had this
beautiful woman, wearing a gorgeous strapless gown and he’s thinking about the honeymoon.>>female on video: According to Zak the most
important finding was that just being part of a wedding makes us release oxytocin. This
may help explain why most people choose to have a wedding instead of eloping with their
partner.>>Paul Zak: I think the ritual evolved because
we all have a stake in sustaining the human race. The bride and groom have a built in
set of people who are emotionally engaged with them, who care about the outcome.>>Paul Zak: Okay, so that was one of the fun
experiments we’ve done outside the lab. But it’s just a way to kind of demonstrate that
the kind of behaviors we’re finding in the lab, that induce the release of oxytocin,
which I call the moral molecule, happen in our daily lives all the time. And I think
that’s why this work is very interesting, is because our brains are living in this sea
of chemicals and we’re not always aware of the chemicals that are being released and
how they impact our behavior. So oxytocin, until we started doing these experiments 10
years ago, was only known in human beings to facilitate birth and breastfeeding. In
fact, one of my colleagues and I thought, well, maybe oxytocin might modulate positive
behaviors in humans, told me it was the world’s stupidest idea. Cause everyone knows it’s
just for birth and it’s not very important. So, “But men’s brains release this too,” I
said, “There must be a reason why.” And in animals, oxytocin has been shown to facilitate
tolerance for animals that live together. So I thought, well, tolerance to, like, treating
people well, that kind of runs on a continuum, maybe this works on humans. Okay, great idea,
difficult execution. So, oxytocin is a very shy little molecule. You have to coax it out
of the brain, it has a three minute half life and then it disappears. And, so, we’re required
some very tight experimental procedures to get this thing to be released. And, again,
before we start doing this, the only ways known were birth, breastfeeding and also sex.
All three of which are too messy to run in my lab. So we thought well, maybe here’s a
way we could induce the release of oxytocin in a way that I can do consistently over and
over and over, and would explain one of the mysteries of life which is why we actually
trust strangers. So we used this task, a task that was developed by a guy that won the Nobel
Prize in economics for inventing experimental economics, now called the Trust Game. And
here’s the task. So everyone gets recruited to be in this experiment, you get 10 dollars
if you agree to sit in these hard chairs for an hour and a half and after lots of instruction
and no deception at all, we never deceive people cause we’re the moral behavior guys,
it would be bad karma to deceive people in experiments. Here’s the task. You log into
the computer, your identity is masked with a secret number and you get paid in private
when the experiment’s over and you get randomly matched with someone else in the lab, who
also got 10 dollars for showing up. And here’s the task. There’s a first decision maker and
a second decision maker in each pair and the first decision maker gets a prompt, by computer,
saying “Would you like to give up some of the 10 dollars you’ve earned for being here
and transfer it to the other person in the lab?” Whatever you give up comes out of your
account but gets tripled in the other person’s account. So if you give up, say 8 of your
10 dollars, you keep 2, but that person just got 24. So the second person gets a message
saying, “Guy 1 sent you 24 dollars, you have 34 dollars in your account, would you like
to send some amount back to that first person?” So you can see, if you think about this task,
the pie’s gonna grow by three. But if you’re the first decision maker, you have to hope,
believe, trust that this person is gonna, in fact, get the signal and return the money.
But, from the second decision maker’s perspective, whatever they return to you comes out of their
account one to one, it doesn’t get tripled again, it’s a pure monetary loss. Oh, I forgot
to tell you, we’re gonna stab your arm with a needle twice and take four tubes of blood
each time. So you’re literally making decisions based on blood money. So, why would you ever
do this? So, what we showed is that the more money you receive, as the second decision
maker did earning trust, the more your brain releases oxytocin and the more oxytocin onboard,
the more you reciprocate. This is actually really interesting news. We have a biological
basis for reciprocation. Essentially this is the golden rule. The golden rule exists
in every culture on the planet. It says if you play nice, I play nice. For 95 percent
of people this is true. The 5 percent that don’t get this are interesting. I’ll tell
you about those in a minute. So once we discovered that oxytocin facilitated this reciprocal
behavior, this, this trusting behavior, we had to really dig into this deeper. I mean,
this is potentially very valuable. So not only do we measure oxytocin and blood, we
measure lots of other chemicals that interact with oxytocin and none of those had an effect
on this behavior. And, we developed an oxytocin nasal inhaler, in which I can shoot synthetic
oxytocin into the brain, safely, I’ve done this for about 700 people now, and we can
turn on these moral behaviors like a garden hose. So not just trust, but things like generosity,
where to be generous towards you means I have to lose money myself. Things like being compassionate,
being charitable, giving money to charity, so once we stimulate the brain, release oxytocin
or shoot this into your brain synthetically, all of a sudden people are reaching out to
others. So, one way to think about this is, oxytocin evolved in mammals to motivate care
for offspring. And in humans, this system works so powerfully, because we have these
little parasites called children attached to us for so long that we attach to all kinds
of people, including strangers. But I think that’s one of the great triumphs of the human
species, is that we can extract value from social relationships. And sometimes that value
is from romantic partners or friendships, but we can actually interact with strangers
and get lots of value out of those relationships, sometimes economic value. So how do we all
work together? Again, so if you guys were rats in this room, fur would be flying. Rats
who don’t know each other don’t like each other. But, again, most people here look pretty
comfortable and relaxed, how do we do that? Because we have something in our heads, oxytocin,
that says, “Johnny, perfectly safe. Seems to be a great guy and>>audience member: Michael.>>Paul Zak: Michael, kind of sketchy, don’t
wanna be around Michael.” So, again, if we didn’t have that in our heads we couldn’t
modulate the appropriate behavior. So, for Michael, I wanna go in and fight with him.
I have different chemicals that tell me, like testosterone, that tells me how to do that.
Okay, so that’s the basic outline. The open question, though, is what it feels like when
your brain releases oxytocin. So we ran an experiment, designed by one of my former graduate
students now a faculty member with me, George Barazza which we had people watch a very sad
video. A hundred second video of a father and his two year old son, the son’s name is
Ben and he has terminal brain cancer. These are not actors, these are real people and
Ben has actually now died. So, I’m not gonna show you the video because the last time I
showed it was at a law conference and several lawyers actually cried. And you know lawyers
don’t have souls so, you know, I don’t wanna make you nice people cry. Anyway, it’s a very
emotional video. There’s a control video in which Ben and his father are just at the zoo,
there’s no mention of cancer or death. So for the treatment video, the father actually
talks to the camera and talks about how it knows to feel to know his son is gonna die
in a couple months. And the son doesn’t know it; he’s just a happy little kid, going through
chemo, whatever. We get a 47 percent increase in oxytocin, huge, just enormous increase,
and people are more generous to strangers in the lab with the money they earn for being
there. They donate more money to the charity that produced this ad. But they reported feeling
the experience of empathy. So the change in oxytocin correlated positively with the sense
of empathy. So it seems to be empathy that oxytocin makes us feel. So, again, when I
release oxytocin, I’m more connected to you emotionally. I’m better able to forecast your
emotions and, therefore, understand what you’re likely to do. This is pretty useful when you’re
around strangers. So, why is that useful? Well, that’s consistent with human beings
having to modulate our behavior to fit the environment we’re in. Alright, so if I have
a sense of empathy then I can figure out if you’re gonna be aggressive, if you’re gonna
be dangerous, if you’re gonna be useful to have a relationship with and I’m plugged in
more with you than just having a cognitive mechanism that says, “Here are the 14 things
I can do. If you do this, I do that.” Now I’m kind of inside your head or inside your
heart, if you will. I’m getting a sense of what you’re likely to do. OK, so why are people
ever good when no one’s watching? In our experiments, you’re in a partitioned booth, you have a
ton of privacy, you can walk out the lab with the money that people had given you but most
people don’t do that. Why not? Well, maybe God’s watching you. So you’re gonna get punished
now or later. Maybe the government’s watching you, right, maybe people have the sense that,
you know if I do something bad, eventually I’ll get caught and punished. Or, maybe this
guy at the bottom of the screen was right. So that’s a picture of Adam Smith, Scottish
philosopher, famous for being the quote, father of economics. He wrote a book in 1776 called
The Wealth of Nations, which you guys have all heard of. But it turns out that Smith
was, in fact, more of a philosopher. And he wrote a book in 1759 called the Theory of
Moral Sentiments. Now to tell you a little about Smith, he was a weird guy. He sometimes
would get so caught up in his own thinking that he would leave the house in his pajamas.
He lived with his mother his entire life until she died. He was kind of a weird character
and he was very minor figure. Just a little guy in Edinburgh, giving lectures on moral
philosophy, but this book, The Theory of Moral Sentiment, made him a rock star. So, 18th
century Europe, this guy is the thing. He’s having dinner with the king of France; he’s
hanging out with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson because he developed, in this book,
the first real terrestrial theory of morality. And that theory said that we are social creatures
and we have, what he called mutual sympathy, we would call that empathy today, and because
we have mutual sympathy, we inhabit other people’s heads just a little bit. So if I
do something that brings Johnny pain, I’m gonna feel that pain so I tend not to do that
cause I don’t like pain. And if I do something that brings Michael pleasure, I get to share
in that pleasure and, therefore, I tend to do those things. So we worked out our conditions
in which this would accentuate or be inhibited. And, so, I had the same discovery, I just
found the neuroscience behind it. So Smith seemed to be right. We have this underlying
kind of Yin and Yang of morality right inside us. Half that is oxytocin, it’s what we feel
when we’re in other people’s presence, what we’re experiencing from them, we call it empathy;
the Yang part is punishment which I’ll tell you about in a minute, which is interesting.
So, I think the punch line here is we don’t need God or government telling us what to
do because we have this internal monitor and it’s kind of like rocket thrusters. Cause
we live in this sea of strangers, we’ve got to figure out which direction to go and the
negative direction was pretty well understood, how to be aggressive and the mechanisms behind
that. But the positive rocket thruster was not understood before we starting running
these experiments and actually you see a really important part of the puzzle because we do
see in many circumstances lots of good behavior among the humans. So one reason not to motivate
more behaviors>>Paul Zak: is this one. This is from a show
called Boston Legal. [Music plays]>>female in video: Oxytocin?>>male in video: It’s a hormone not a drug.>>female in video: What does it do?>>male in video: Well, essentially it causes
people to trust you.>>female in video: There’s a hormone that
causes people to trust you?>>male in video: I mainly used it for me.
It can also help people with social anxieties. It enabled me to trust her as well. I spray
it on like cologne. It has a nice gentle fragrance, not too bold.
[Laughter]>>male in video: Anyway, Dana, that’s her
name. She found out and she’s suing me.>>male in video: You’re disappointed in me.>>female in video: Well, I am, Jerry. Truth
be told.>>Paul Zak: Okay, so two lessons come from
this video. One is, be careful what you do in research because the TV shows will pick
it up. But the answer here to increase more behaviors is not to spritz the rooms with
oxytocin. So, in fact, when we do these experimental tasks where we infuse oxytocin, you’re getting
about two teaspoons of liquid up your nose, you know you’re getting it, it’s not very
pleasant and that’s kind of a sledge hammer. So your brain’s own oxytocin system has this
very short on, off. It’s got a three minute half life. So I see Johnny, I turn it on,
he’s safe, that allows me to approach him. So oxytocin modulates its approach, withdraw,
trust, distrust behavior. I don’t wanna leave that switch on cause I might run into Michael,
scary guy, and I don’t wanna be reaching out to him cause he might hurt me. Or he might
just not be an appropriate person to be around. So I’ve always got to modulate this kind of
behavior. But even with a drug, we don’t see oxytocin turning people into gullible, piles
of mush where they’re just giving away money. They’re still cognitively intact they’ve just
changed this balance between self and other. So one way to think of oxytocin is this molecule
that motivated us to care for our offspring, makes us treat strangers like family. So,
that can be a very beautiful thing. All of a sudden now my family has enlarged and it
could include, potentially, the entire planet. So I can connect to anybody around the planet.
So, it’s not drugs, it’s understanding how your brain releases oxytocin that can motivate
these positive social behaviors. By the way, I’m using the world moral and it’s not a big
M, it’s a small m, so moral just means an appropriate social behavior. So like the golden
rule, I have no theological or philosophical stake in some other version of that. So it
just means the positive social behaviors that sustain you in the social group as a human
being. So oxytocin actually activates a larger brain circuit which I call the home circuit.
Home stands for human oxytocin mediated empathy. And it utilizes two other neurotransmitters,
dopamine and serotonin. And the arrows show the kind of pathways that oxytocin, which
is released deep in the brainstem these evolutionary old areas of the brain, into areas that modulate
social behaviors and social memories. What’s important about this is that the brain has
set it up so that it feels good to do good. So, in particular, you get this dopamine release
that reinforces positive social behaviors and you get a mood lift from the serotonin
release. So the brain is set up to motivate positive behavior. So it’s not an anomaly
that we treat people well, that we hold doors for people going into office buildings, that’s
actually part of our deep evolutionary history. Again, that’s because that’s what sustains
us in our social group, is behaving in appropriate ways. Again, if I run into a scary guy or
someone’s threatening my kids, believe me I’m gonna turn it on and take em’ out if I
can, or get my kids away. But, for the most part, for most people most of the time, you
play nice, they’re gonna play nice. So the most of the time, of course, is where the
rubber hits the road. So let’s talk about ways we can inhibit oxytocin release. So,
there’s a couple interesting ways. One of those is high levels of stress. So, it turns
out that moderate stress induces more oxytocin release, right, in a stressful situation you
wanna bond together. Think of yourself, I don’t know, in the airplane in a bad thunderstorm,
the plane is jumping around and you have avoided talking to your seatmate, right, you’re reading
your book, playing with your computer and now you start, you can’t read anyway, but,
you just start talking. “Man I hate these thunderstorms. It sucks, I wanna get home.”
Why do you do that? It’s actually calming to be going through something stressful with
someone else. But at high levels of stress, the plane’s going down, it’s all about you.
You’re brain says, “Hey, you gotta get through the next 20 minutes, forget about everybody
else.” So you guys know that. When you’re under high stress you’re not your best self,
right, kind of nasty and grumpy or short tempered. And then what do you have to do the next day?
You gotta go into work or to your spouse and go, “Man, I was a jerk yesterday.”
[Laughs]>>Paul Zak: “I was having a really bad day.”
My dog died, my car broke down, whatever it is and then you have to rebuild those social
relationships. Okay, the other potent oxytocin inhibitor that we found in the lab, is a chemical
that is the most important chemical to half the people in this room, testosterone. So
when we administer testosterone to men in experiments, can better themselves on placebo,
we can make them more selfish and more entitled. Okay, so who are the most selfish and entitled
people on the planet? Teenage boys, which half of us used to be, we can tell you that.
But we also find that high testosterone individuals, mostly males but sometimes females, also are
more likely to punish people for moral violations, for example, violations of sharing norms.
So, the yang of biology is punishment. So, I might be nice to you because I had this
oxytocin release, I don’t wanna give you pain cause I’m gonna feel that pain or because
I fear that you’re gonna be aggressive towards me. You’re gonna view what I’m doing as bad
behavior if I don’t play nice and get aggressive towards me, particularly if I’m a male, and,
so, this balancing act kind of keeps us on the straight and narrow most of the time.
So do we need God or government? We still need a little God and a little government
probably because since our brains live in a sea of chemicals, we need these bright lines,
the society places or some book places that says, “Look if you’re not here, if you’re
here everything’s fine, but once you get out here you gotta start worrying.” So, as a society,
I think what we’ve done is say, “Look, here’s where the bright lines are” We move them occasionally
but, “Here’s where the lines are.” Within this range everything’s pretty much appropriate,
you can pretty much modulate your behavior, but once you start getting outside those lines
then we as a group are gonna say, “We don’t think that’s acceptable.” So, I think we still
need to have those bright lines, again, cause we’re not always consciously aware of these
evolutionary old impulses for good or bad behavior. Other factors that affect the release
of oxytocin include developmental history. So in animals, animals that are abused or
neglected develop oxytocin receptors, particularly in the forebrain, in which you get these good
feelings when you behave in a positive social way. We found that about half of women who
are repeatedly sexually abused as children don’t release any oxytocin on stimulus. We’ve
also found within this five percent of so who don’t respond in our experiments, that
a couple percent of those are psychopaths. So, psychopaths don’t feel empathy and they’re
mostly born that way. So you’re born with bad genes. You just don’t get this, you’re
just kind of a user, you know, you’ve taken advantage of people; you’re in permanent survival
mode. And the psychopaths are not fixable; we’ve actually found in our blood tests, that
we can identify them before they behave in certain ways. So, their oxytocin receptors
seem to be dysfunctional. So there’s no fix. We can’t replace the oxytocin because the
whole brain system that utilizes it doesn’t work properly. So I avoid, I suggest avoiding
the psychopaths, they are dangerous. So in writing this book I really had come to terms
with why I spent 10 years of my life looking at moral behaviors. And, in coming to terms
with that, the first answer was I had done work, both some as an economist and a neuroscientist
and in my economist world, I had worked in the late 90s showing that countries that had
high levels of interpersonal trust were more prosperous. So poor countries are, by large,
low trust countries and when trust is low, very few transactions occur, including transactions
that create wealth and reduce poverty. So this work had a lot of impact. The World Bank
flies me out, you know, how do we raise trust in these developing countries? And what I
couldn’t answer was, for a given country, why two people who didn’t know each other
would ever trust each other. So that really led into our original trust experiments and
then this longer odyssey. But as I started writing the book, I really had to be honest
about that. So for us trust is really important, relieving poverty, the true reason for this
10 years worth of work is this woman right here. This nun, her name is Sister Mary Maristella
and this is a picture from the 1950s. After the picture was taken she decided to leave
the Sisters of Loretto, the orders of nun that she had joined. And, a couple years later
became my mother. So you think you had an interesting childhood, talk to me. So, Morality
with a capital M was certainly in our house all the time. I was an altar boy, I was raised
Catholic, learned Latin, breathed in a lot of incense and over time, it just didn’t make
sense to me. That only Catholics go to heaven and however good a Buddhist person you are
or a Hindi or whatever; you’re not the right kind of moral person. So, I think in rejecting
that kind of view of this top down morality that my mother had, I was looking for this
underlying, like Adam Smith, terrestrial basis for my moral behavior. A biological basis
to understand good and evil, and this drove me to look at all these different experiments.
As I said earlier, we’ve gone outside the lab, as well, to make sure that what we’re
finding in the laboratory actually works in real life. And I seriously avoided anything
having to do with religion because of my background. I didn’t wanna know, although we asked religious
question, you know, do you believe in God, do you pray? None of that affects behavior
in a laboratory because oxytocin explains the vast majority and variations in these
behaviors. But anyway, having come to turns with my own weird religious background, we
have now, we’ve gone to churches, we’ve gone to folk dances, we’ve gone to places where
people congregate, where they exercise, soldiers marching and in all these circumstances we
found, indeed, that the majority of people would release oxytocin when they do these
community activities. So, again, I don’t think these rituals are going away because people
who release oxytocin during the ecologically valid rituals feel closer to their community.
And when you feel closer to your community then you have the value of those social relationships.
So I don’t think churches are disappearing, but maybe in Europe, we’ll see. Okay, so one
more question really bugged me, which is all the studies I’ve shown you so far have been
run either in Western Europe or the U.S. And I thought, if we’re really building a theory,
a biological theory, about morality, oxytocin release has gotta be universal for this theory
to be universal. So last year, I went to the Highlands of Papua New Guinea to run an experiment.
So this is our rain forest in which there are 800 distinct languages cause these tribes
of subsistence farmers are very isolated and they can be very aggressive. 50 years ago,
they were cannibals. So I get there, and this is like the experiment from hell. Everything
that could go wrong, did go wrong, other than someone getting seriously hurt or killed.
No electricity, no running water. So we brought generators, I brought all my own medical equipment,
but, anyway, there were lots of issues that made it a very difficult experiment to run.
But we had these individuals do a typical ritual that they would engage in, in their
village, and let me show you what it looks like then tell you about it. [Music plays]>>Paul Zak: It’s in Japanese. I can, if you
wanna hear it. Any Japanese speakers? [Music plays with Japanese narration]>>Paul Zak: So this was a Japanese documentary
on human evolution and so the camera crew followed me for this experiment
[marching noise]>>Paul Zak: So these are people living in
a village called Malke, there’s about a thousand people there. This is a traditional war dance
that they do. [Murmuring]
[Japanese speaking]>>Paul Zak: And we took blood before and after.
Before and after to find out what goes on in the brain during this period.
[Music plays]>>Paul Zak: Like I said, there’s no electricity.
This is a hand crank centrifuge, we actually brought a generator but my electrical centrifuge
started burning up and so we had to crank some of the blood by hand which is, 10 minutes
by hand is a lot of work. [Music plays]
[Japanese speaking]>>Paul Zak: None of these men had ever been
to a doctor or dentist. They’d never seen their blood drawn before. And because there’s
no running water, although it rains, we had to use like 5 or 6 alcohol swabs just to get
to skin. I mean, they’re kind of covered with dirt. They live in a wet, muddy area.
[Japanese speaking] [Music plays]
[Japanese speaking]>>Paul Zak: So, the other things we measured
were testosterone, stress hormones and oxytocin release because they all interact with each
other. [Japanese speaking]>>Paul Zak: So you can
hear my perfect Japanese on that tape. So
what we found is, indeed, 60 percent of the men in this ritual released oxytocin and they
felt closer to their community in this ritual that they had done for thousands of years.
So the release of oxytocin appears to be universal, almost everyone has it and I think harvesting
this power can be quite valuable. So, because stress, like survival stress, inhibits the
release of oxytocin, it also inhibits our ability to feel empathy and to connect to
others and so there’s this possibility that there’s this positive feedback loop in which
as I release oxytocin, I engage in more moral behaviors, including trusting behaviors, which
allows for more extraction of social value from in relationships including the economic
value. And as I move people out of poverty, I give them the luxury of releasing oxytocin
and behaving in those social ways, and so this feedback loop can start occurring. Of
course you can unwind this, you can do this backwards, we see lots of countries doing
this. So if this feedback loop is real, we should be able to see a data at the country
level suggesting this is happening. And, in fact, we do see that. This is data on tolerance.
It’s a little hard to read but it’s a strong income gradient on measures of tolerance,
the ability to tolerate people that are different than you. There’s a nice income gradient for
things like trust and there’s even income gradient for happiness. So countries that
are more tolerant, more trusting are more prosperous and are happier. And, in fact,
we found the same thing at the level of individuals. In a recent experiment, which we look at the
differences in oxytocin release, we asked, “What’s the difference between people who
release lots of oxytocin when they’re trusting versus those who release little?” And the
people who released the most were, in fact, happier in their lives and they were happier
because they had better relationships of all types, better romantic relationships, more
close friends, closer to family, they’re even nicer to strangers in laboratory tests. So,
we looked at many ways to release oxytocin and one of those is touch. Now, one our early
experiments, we showed that touch induces oxytocin release and so you have to believe
your own research. So I started changing my life because of my own research and one of
the things I refuse to do is I refuse to handshake now, I hug everybody. And, so, the students
in my lab started calling me Doctor Love as kind of a joke. Anyways, I had this reporter
a couple years ago from Fast Company magazine come to the lab, run through some experiments
and then he added me as Doctor Love in the title of his article about me. And at first
I was kind of unhappy cause I’m a serious scientist. Then I started thinking, like,
what thing could I do better in the world than encourage people to connect more, to
show more love. In fact, oxytocin is just like love. You can’t force someone to love
you and you can’t force your own brain to release oxytocin. You can only give it to
somebody else and if you give it to somebody else, 95 percent of those people, they’re
likely to reciprocate and show you that love, that care, that empathy in return. So I think,
if I’m Doctor Love, fine. If I can encourage people to be more connecting, more loving,
I think I’ve done something good in the world. So, anyway, the book has a lot of practical
ways that you can do that besides just hugging people. And I think what it means is that
we can take charge of our social lives and build communities that allow us to foster
better social relationships and more happiness. So, understanding how to harness the power
of oxytocin, I think, is potentially very valuable. By the way, let me just say, since
I’m at Google, we’ve also shown in a number of experiments that using social media, like
Google Plus, induces the release of oxytocin as well. So, connection is what we need, connection
is what we want and if you understand that that’s a very deep evolutionary part of history,
a deep part of our human nature, then I think it frees you up to connect to others and to
enjoy the reduction in stress, the improvement in immune system and an increase in happiness
that you get from oxytocin release. So, I’ve said a lot, how about if I take some questions
and we can hang out and chat a little bit. Oh, there’s no questions at all? Michael,we
should let him go first cause I picked on him.
[Laughter]>>Paul Zak: He’s a fine person, we know that.>>male #1: So I have a question, um, does
the ability to perceive oxytocin change us over time in the same person?>>Paul Zak: That’s a great question. So, there
is evidence suggesting that the more you release oxytocin, the more you lower the threshold
for release. In other words it gets easier to release oxytocin. By the way, that’s different
than fear. So fear we acclimate to, so I can scare you and then you get used to that stimulus
and I have to keep increasing it. But with oxytocin release, it gets easier and easier
which is very interesting. Even though there’s some experiments that suggest that, my own
experience is the same. Because I’m introvert, and I kind of get tired talking to people
but it turns out that the more I connect to people, the easier it gets and, presumably,
the more oxytocin I’m releasing. So, I’m subject number one in that experiment. Yeah, thanks.>>male #2: So, did I understand correctly
that you said you could test, establish where people were on the psychopath scale through
blood testing?>>Paul Zak: Yeah, we have evidence that we
can identify the psychopaths. We can’t nail that exactly where they are on a scale but
if you’re severe enough, this is the Hare psychopathology’s checklist. If you’re severe
enough on a checklist, you’ll get picked up in our blood test.>>male #2: So are you concerned with the,
sort of, criminal justice applications of this at some point in the future?>>Paul Zak: Right, so I see people who I talk
to and groups I talk to who really like this work a lot are lawyers and judges because
they have these frequent fliers. So I spent a fair amount of time in courthouses and jails
interviewing these individuals to find out why they don’t respond to punishments. And
there’s actually some very funny stories in there and also some tragic stories. But I’m
not worried about a, kind of, Brave New World approach where, again, we’re shooting this
stuff into people’s brains. Because, number one, the effects are fairly subtle and, number
two, these psychopaths don’t seem to have the receptors for oxytocin, so even if I replace
it, having said that, there are drugs in development that can increase the number of oxytocin receptors.
And, so, those might be used to treat a variety of disorders that associate with improper
social behaviors, schizophrenia, depression, social anxiety and maybe psychopathology.
So, again, I think society needs to say where that line lies. I need to do the basic research
and show the world what we can do with it.>>male #2: So, I mean, given the Hare test
is used to sort of approve or deny parole in some states, I mean, do you think that
would be a useful thing if this blood test became used eventually to, sort of, decide
people’s futures?>>Paul Zak: Right, so I think, we’re still
doing more research on this so I’d say the jury’s still out. There’s a funny story I
tell in the book about being pulled into a murder case. So there was an internet entrepreneur
in Silicon Valley named Hans Reiser who was getting divorced. His wife was Russian and
instead of divorcing his wife he decides, instead, to kill her. And he’s on trial for
this, they never find the body, the last day of the trial he’s gonna be convicted for sure.
He pleads to first degree murder to avoid the death penalty and shows the prosecutor
where the body is. He goes to jail for life, he’s in San Quentin. A year into San Quentin,
he writes a four page, handwritten appeal to the state of California asking for a new
trial, citing my research, claiming that his lawyer had oxytocin deficit disorder, this
disorder I called, which you don’t release oxytocin. And, of course, that appeal was
denied. But, I mean, the lack of insight, here’s a guy who has no empathy at all who’s
claiming his lawyer didn’t have empathy and couldn’t represent him properly. So it’s getting
into the law now. So, yeah, we’re, the largest group of neuroscientists have come out the
last few years saying that many of the neuroscience findings like brain imaging, are not ready
for the courtroom because they are, they can induce more bias than they can remove uncertainty
in, in people’s minds. So, they’re more prejudicial than they are probative. Yeah, great question,
thanks. Yeah. [Pause]>>male #3: Two related questions on the, assuming
that there are other factors, say besides trust, that might effect a country’s prosperity
where, could you name a few countries who may have had high, um, low trust but high
prosperity? And then on the individual level is it possible, again, similarly to, the 5
percent of people who were kind of psychopathic, is it possible to override the oxytocin pathway
process and still do some of these negative things but have fully functioning oxytocin
receptors?>>Paul Zak: Great question, two great questions.
So, we actually ran a horse race using cross country data which asked does this oxytocin
which facilitates trust, does that come first or do you need kind of good institutions?
So, it’s the institutions that actually generate high trust and the oxytocin response to that.
So those are a government that fairly enforces contracts, independent judiciary, having a
well functioning social sector so not a lot of social strife and having a well functioning
economic sector. So, for example, a very high variance in distribution of income tends to
drag down trust levels because now it’s harder to understand if someone’s gonna behave nicely
because they might be under survival stress. And so yeah, fixing those three sectors come
first and then the brain responds with this feeling of safety. So a great example is London
or New York which, you know, 25-30 years ago were much less safe places and have become,
actually, much friendlier, much safer and, actually, very prosperous. So, I was in New
York 10 days ago, I mean, 2 in the morning you can walk around and you feel totally comfortable
in Manhattan and just about anywhere. So yeah, there are, there’s this positive feedback
loop. The second question was on individuals who don’t seem to have these oxytocin receptors.
So, in a short story to illustrate this point, we ran an experiment for a TV show, which
I talk about in the book, a show on the seven deadly sins. And, so, of course I was hoping
to get lust. Unfortunately, I got greed. I thought I could do lust, but anyway, the shtick
on the show was they took a woman from the Donald Trump show, The Apprentice, in the
US, and who is gorgeous, successful, but famously greedy. And we run her through a battery of
trials to understand, is she a psychopath? Is she using people? Or, so she was actually
very greedy for money, in fact, we put her on the intranasal oxytocin, it didn’t affect
her behavior. So, she has many of the attributes of psychopaths, although she has a very funny
developmental history which you can read up on in the book. Her father was a drug dealer,
although she’s very intelligent. But, when we did other tasks with her, like we did some
cooperation tasks in which they don’t involve money, she was wonderfully cooperative and
an actually very nice person but she doesn’t have the underlying oxytocin release. So,
she can still be a nice person when she wants to, but when it comes to business she will
take your face off if she can. So, again, we learn to modulate this. So, again, it’s
not just oxytocin, there’s lots of other factors that affect our social behaviors. But that
was really the missing mechanism that motivates the many positive behaviors. Yeah, thanks.>>male #4: So, one of the behaviors that you’re
talking about, oxytocin in the brain that you’re measuring it from blood before and
after samples, so I was wondering if you could talk about the difference between the oxytocin
in the brain versus in the blood. And, are there any sort of experimental techniques
coming up where you’ll be able to more directly measure during an activity rather than just
a before and after snapshot?>>Paul Zak: Right, great, great neuroscience
question. So, because oxytocin is so evolutionarily old, it’s one of the few brain chemicals that’
released simultaneously both in brain and blood under physiological stress. And when
we give these tasks, we’re stressing you and so what’s in brain and blood are correlated.
Base line levels are not correlated but under physiological stress they are. So, what’s
in blood is a decent reflection of what’s in brain and we, you know, we collaborated,
we confirmed what we see in blood by, again, infusing intranasal oxytocin. So we show the
brain releasing oxytocin for this task, then we infuse oxytocin and show we can replicate
the task. And we’ve done things like functional brain imaging to show in these tasks we see
a big activation or a larger activation versus controls that are rich in oxytocin receptors.
So we are working, now, on, actually with the US military, on very rapid ways to measure
oxytocin release. So I can’t talk about those but there are ways that we’re investigating
that may allow us to measure on a second by second basis or even faster, what is going
on in the brain.>>male #5: You seem to be saying that cause
and effect from increased oxytocin to increased empathy or increased trust works in both directions.
Is that, is that correct? Is that what you are saying?>>Paul Zak: Right, so it’s the receipt of
the positive social signal, could be a signal of trust, could be a hug, that induces the
recipient’s brain to release oxytocin and then motivates these moral behaviors or pro
social behaviors.>>male #5: But you also were saying that if
you inject or nasally inject oxytocin equivalents then you can see changes in behavior?>>Paul Zak: Right, so the reason for the oxytocin
inhaler studies is to, again, complete that circle. But also because it gives someone,
gives people in the experiment a physiologically equivalent social signal. So I could, in experiments,
have everyone go and hug each other, but those, that’ll have varying effects across individuals.
When I give you the oxytocin spray, it’s as if you received a positive social signal and
everyone gets the same signal. Yeah, another good question. One more question and then
we’ll sign some books. No more questions, okay, so thanks to you guys for coming and
if you wanna chat afterwards come by and get a hug from me, Doctor Love, and thanks so
much for your questions. [Applause]

6 Replies to “[email protected] Paul Zak on “The Moral Molecule””

  1. I suppose it is not that one-sided. Neither evil nor empathy are truly conscious choices. In fact I am not sure what a conscious choice would be. Facing a danger we "fight or flee". Not a conscious choice. Perhaps we should increase investigation in that field…do we really have conscious choices and up to what point?

  2. And yet, if your imaginary badguy had a large oxytocin injection he quite possibly wouldn't have committed that bad behavior. How's that for not letting hormones direct you? Stop living in the bronze age, your "mind" is what your brain does and your brain is a physical and chemical system.

  3. Hello! Thanks a lot for this useful video. By the way, I hear lots of people keep on talking about Xocialign System (search on google), but I'm not sure if it's good. Have you tried using system called Xocialign System? I've heard some extraordinary things about it and my work buddy completely stop his social anxiety naturally with this system.

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