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The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity 0th Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0525952817
ISBN-10: 9780525952817
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Editorial Reviews


"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

About 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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton (May 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780525952817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525952817
  • ASIN: 0525952810
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #983,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The molecule is oxytocin. You might be familiar with it from its role in inducing childbirth and lactation. It actually plays a huge role in maternal behavior, as well as pair bonding and pro-social behavior in general. You get a surge of it when you have sex, get a hug, see a baby, hear from an old friend. Its reputation as the love drug is well deserved.

Zak did a couple of interesting things with this hormone. First, he studied it, in a lab setting. Second, he used it to come up with a pretty comprehensive model that explains a lot of human behavior.

Zak's experiments were rather unusual. For one thing, he actually took blood to measure subjects' oxytocin levels. For another, he concentrated on typical economics experiments (the ultimatum game, for example). That's why what he's done has been jokingly called "vampire economics."

What he found is pretty interesting stuff, and basically lays to rest the old notion of homo economicus - the old "reasonable man" acting in his own "rational self-interest." This may be surprising only to economists, but Zak found that people are as emotional as they are rational, and that doing unto others makes you feel pretty darn good and is as much a motivator - if not more - than acquisitiveness.

This leads into his model where oxytocin starts a virtuous cycle of trust, caring, and all sorts of good stuff. He contrasts that with a vicious cycle based on testosterone. He then uses these models and his findings to speculate about quite a bit. For example, he:

* Speculates about the pro-social aspect of testosterone (e.g.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is about the hormone oxytocin (which is principally a female hormone but also present in the male). This hormone is the molecule referred to in the title of the book. "Am I actually saying that a single molecule...accounts for why some people give freely of themselves and others are coldhearted bastards, why some people cheat and steal and others you can trust with your life, why some husbands are more faithful than others, and, by the way, why some women tend to be more generous - and nicer - than men?" asks the author Paul Zak. "In a word, yes" he answers.

This molecule as Zak calls it, is a "feel good" hormone that increases when we do simple, feel good things like giving or receiving a hug, or when we give generously. The act of giving stimulates this hormone resulting in the recipient desiring to trust the giver. Zak explains that there is also a counter hormone ("testosterone") which he calls the "bad boy" hormone that increases the impulse to take risk and behave badly. However, testosterone is necessary for physical courage and strength. Thus, the mammalian animal evolved with these two hormones balancing each other and so many of the unusual behavior Zak says, can be attributed to an imbalance of those hormones.

From the general effects and the origin of this hormone in the evolutionary process, Zak discusses specific topics such as the effect of oxytocin deprivation in orphans. He also discusses the influence of oxytocin inclining people to religion. Zak believes, however, that religion serves a useful purpose regardless of whether God exists or not.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Paul Zak. Remember the name. No, you need not. His name will come back time and again. He is a shooting star in economics and neuroeconomics. Moral Moelcule is a terrific book. Great science and great storytelling. In traditional economics, morality is an add-on. Something that must be constructed or realized through man-made rules and constitutional constraints on people's collective decision making, and for market-based decision making to work at all. Zak points to how such constraints might not have a prayer of making markets viable without the evolved chemistry of the brain that makes cooperation and trust self-rewarding. Great read, and I felt compelled to post this comment after the first four chapters, in spite of the fact that his arguments are unsettling for me as a traditional economist. I look forward to spending time with the rest of the book. Take a glimpse of the future of economics through this book. Very highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one man's study of events taking place at the frontier of science, specifically at the very fertile point at which the biological sciences intersect with the social sciences. It is at this precise point that in recent years an increasingly long line of groundbreaking studies have been advancing the larger scientific thesis that Darwin's theory of Evolution is the only mechanism needed to set the parameters for both our Biological and now our more human and moral existence. Perhaps it goes without saying that if this author's results stand up to peer review and replication, he will have proven that a single hormone is probably as responsible as anything else for our very humanity.

This scientific detective story will have the skeptical reader gasping for breathe as he is forced (as I was) to seek a hasty retreat: continuously giving ground until he is finally forced to surrender to the logic and convincing evidence on display in this fine piece of work by a Southern California Neuro-economist. I nervously backtracked from saying: "This is such a cockamamie idea," to a final position of saying "of course this is the way human behavior works, how could it be otherwise?"

The author's primary thesis has been to prove that Oxytocin is a key hormone in the development of moral behavior in man. The protagonist of this story is the "birth" hormone Oxytocin, (not to be confused with the painkiller, Oxycontin). The antagonist is oxytocin's opposite: testosterone, which as the author notes, primarily accounts for the difference in behavior between the sexes. The primary role of oxytocin, up until studies like this one, had been to induce labor in women during childbirth.
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