See Also: Book Notes, (me), Notes on Consciousness, Consciousness and the Brain, Ancient Origins of Consciousness Consciousness: Confessions, How Emotions Are Made, The Quest for Consciousness, Happiness Hypothesis, Blank Slate, Info Viz & Perception, On Intelligence, Neuroscience of Human Relationships, Human: Makes Us Unique, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Righteous Mind, Ravenous Brain


The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Robert M. Sapolsky

Penguin Press, May 2017, ISBN-13: 978-1594205071, Book Website
675 pages of text, 40 Appendix, 3 pages of Abbreviation, 52 pages of Notes, 15 pages of index with tiny print.

Behave is a sweeping and in depth accounting of the neurobiology of humans. It covers everthing! The Chapters start with The Behavior, One Second Before, Second to Minutes Before, . . . Centuries to Millenia Before . . . Us Versus Them . . . Morality . . . Epilogue

So many big topics are covered in this book! I've picked some themes that resonated with my current understanding of what it is to be human. These are represented by some scant notes of mine clearly labeled as [jch note:s]. All quoted text is verbatum from the book, with p.Page number.

Resonating Themes: It's complicated! (Addressing Nature v. Nurture),   Us v. Them,   Elephant Autopilot, (Free Will?)   Brain Science,   Income Inequality,   Moral Foundations,   Culture

As always, these notes are what I found interesting and not a summary in any form!.

Sapolsky is a great writer! The text is clearly presented by someone with a firm grasp on the tree of knowledge and how to pass it on. There are many noted os a personal nature, usually with a wonderful sense of humor. And there are many, many wonderful references such as "untruthiness".

It's complicated! (Nature v. Nuture)

[jch: it cannot be disentangled.] From the Epilogue: "If you had to boil this book down to a single phrase, it would be “It’s complicated.” Nothing seems to cause anything; instead everything just modulates something else. Scientists keep saying, “We used to think X, but now we realize that . . .” Fixing one thing often messes up ten more, as the law of unintended consequences reigns. On any big, important issue it seems like 51 percent of the scientific studies conclude one thing, and 49 percent conclude the opposite. And so on. Eventually it can seem hopeless that you can actually fix something, can make things better. But we have no choice but to try. And if you are reading this, you are probably ideally suited to do so. You’ve amply proven you have intellectual tenacity. You probably also have running water, a home, adequate calories, and low odds of festering with a bad parasitic disease. You probably don’t have to worry about Ebola virus, warlords, or being invisible in your world. And you’ve been educated. In other words, you’re one of the lucky humans. So try."

p.4 "And as a third point, by the time you finish this book, you’ll see that it actually makes no sense to distinguish between aspects of a behavior that are “biological” and those that would be described as, say, “psychological” or “cultural.” Utterly intertwined."
p.248 "This is summarized wonderfully by the neurobiologist Donald Hebb: “It is no more appropriate to say things like characteristic A is more influenced by nature than nurture than . . . to say that the area of a rectangle is more influenced by its length than its width.” It’s appropriate to figure out if lengths or widths explain more of the variability in a population of rectangles. But not in individual ones."

Epilogue Bullet: " Genes aren’t about inevitabilities; they’re about potentials and vulnerabilities. And they don’t determine anything on their own. Gene/ environment interactions are everywhere. Evolution is most consequential when altering regulation of genes, rather than genes themselves."

Epilogue Bullet: " Adolescence shows us that the most interesting part of the brain evolved to be shaped minimally by genes and maximally by experience; that’s how we learn—context, context, context."

p.254 "This brings us to a hugely important 2002 study, one of my favorites, by Avshalom Caspi and colleagues at Duke University. 44 The authors followed a large cohort of children from birth to age twenty-six, studying their genetics, upbringing, and adult behavior. Did MAO-A variant status predict antisocial behavior in twenty-six-year-olds (as measured by a composite of standard psychological assessments and convictions for violent crimes)? No. But MAO-A status coupled with something else powerfully did. Having the low-activity version of MAO-A tripled the likelihood . . . but only in people with a history of severe childhood abuse. And if there was no such history, the variant was not predictive of anything. This is the essence of gene/ environment interaction. What does having a particular variant of the MAO-A gene have to do with antisocial behavior? It depends on the environment. “Warrior gene” my ass."

Brain Science

[jch: This book has a fantastic picture of the Brain Regions involved in behavior! And some disussion of the Networks involved. It is light on Large Scale Brain Networks, but, we are not ready to get so specific about networks, yet.
I wish there was a annotated index of brain regions. It would desribe the region and then reference the pages where is it mentioned and for what.
Here are a few Random tidbits]

p.158 "tens of thousands, there’ll be social functions for all the people studying the same obscure brain region, a place where they can gossip and bond and court. But in reality the brain is about circuits, about the patterns of functional connectivity among regions. The growing myelination of the adolescent brain shows the importance of increased connectivity."

p.38 "The frontal cortex. When we stop fearing something, it isn’t because some amygdaloid neurons have lost their excitability. We don’t passively forget that something is scary. We actively learn that it isn’t anymore.*"

p.47 [jch: our brains our not special. Ancient Origins] "The sole exception is an obscure type of neuron with a distinctive shape and pattern of wiring, called von Economo neurons (aka spindle neurons). At first they seemed to be unique to humans, but we’ve now found them in other primates, whales, dolphins, and elephants.* That’s an all-star team of socially complex species."

p.56 [dlPFC v. vmPFC] "The differences appear when it comes to making social/ emotional decisions—vmPFC patients just can’t decide.* They understand the options and can sagely advise someone else in similar circumstances. But the closer to home and the more emotional the scenario, the more they have problems."

p.58 "[ the dlPFC & vmPFC ] are intertwined in a collaborative relationship needed for normal function, and as tasks with both emotive and cognitive components become more difficult (making an increasingly complex economic decision in a setting that is increasingly unfair), activity in the two structures becomes more synchronized."

p.482 "When we confront a moral choice, the dlPFC doesn’t adjudicate in contemplative silence. The waters roil below."

"People tend toward instantaneous moral reactions; moreover, when subjects shift from judging nonmoral elements of acts to moral ones, they make assessments faster, the antithesis of moral decision making being about grinding cognition. Most strikingly, when facing a moral quandary, activation in the amygdala, vmPFC, and insula typically precedes dlPFC activation."

p.430 [& Culture] "This also plays out in the Western world, where the larger the size of someone’s social network (often calculated by the number of e-mail/ texting relationships), the larger the vmPFC, orbital PFC, and amygdala, and the better the person’s Theory of Mind–related skills."

p.80 fusiform and faces "Show pictures of different cars, and the fusiform activates—in automobile aficionados.  Show pictures of birds, and ditto among bird-watchers. The fusiform isn’t about faces; it’s about recognizing examples of things from categories that are emotionally salient to each individual."

p.145 plasticity "pseudoinjury: after merely five days of subjects being blindfolded, auditory projections start to remap into the visual cortex (and retract once the blindfolds come off). 14"

p.148 [jch: neurogenesis in hippocampus. Other Regions? "there’s considerable adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus (where roughly 3 percent of neurons are replaced each month) and lesser amounts in the cortex. 22 It happens in humans throughout adult life. Hippocampal neurogenesis, for example, is enhanced by learning, exercise, estrogen, antidepressants, environmental enrichment, and brain injury* and inhibited by various stressors."

The Elephant (Autopilot) and the Rider (Consciousness, or "Free Will")

[jch: I'm a big fan of the The Elephant And The Rider Metaphor.]

Epilogue Bullet: " We are constantly being shaped by seemingly irrelevant stimuli, subliminal information, and internal forces we don’t know a thing about."

p.30 [jch: muscle memory learning skills. Train the Elephant.]
"[ piano trill = skill is ...] A classic working-memory task. And then one day you realize that you’re five measures past the trill, it went fine, and you didn’t have to think about it. And that’s when doing the trill is transferred from the frontal cortex to more reflexive brain regions (e.g., the cerebellum). This transition to automaticity also happens when you get good at a sport, when metaphorically your body knows what to do without your thinking about it."

p.50 "automaticity ... helps explain the answer typically given after someone has been profoundly brave. “What were you thinking when you dove into the river to save that drowning child?” “I wasn’t thinking—before I knew it, I had jumped in.” Often the neurobiology of automaticity mediates doing the hardest moral acts, while the neurobiology of the frontal cortex mediates working hard on a term paper about the subject."

p.74 "Dopamine is not just about reward anticipation; it fuels the goal-directed behavior needed to gain that reward; dopamine “binds” the value of a reward to the resulting work. It’s about the motivation arising from those dopaminergic projections to the PFC that is needed to do the harder thing (i.e., to work)."

Epilogue Bullet: " It’s great if your frontal cortex lets you avoid temptation, allowing you to do the harder, better thing. But it’s usually more effective if doing that better thing has become so automatic that it isn’t hard. And it’s often easiest to avoid temptation with distraction and reappraisal rather than willpower."

p.67 "This is our world of habituation, where nothing is ever as good as that first time."

Moral Foundations

p.449 "presenting the other’s perspective. Jonathan Haidt of NYU provides a very different view. 38 He identifies six foundations of morality—care versus harm; fairness versus cheating; liberty versus oppression; loyalty versus betrayal; authority versus subversion; sanctity versus degradation. Both experimental and real-world data show that liberals preferentially value the first three goals, namely care, fairness, and liberty (and, showing an overlap with Kohlbergian formulations, undervaluing loyalty, authority, and sanctity is in many ways synonymous with postconventional thinking). In contrast, conservatives heavily value loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Obviously, this is a big difference. Is it okay to criticize your group to outsiders? Rightists: no, that’s disloyal. Leftists: yes, if justified. Should you ever disobey a law? Rightists: no, that undermines authority. Leftists: of course, if it’s a bad law. Is it okay to burn the flag? Rightists: never, it’s sacred. Leftists: come on, it’s a piece of cloth."

[jch: Other Haidt references: p.185 & p.481 Social Intuitionism, p.400 "post-hoc justifications" on this page, p.509 "Haidtian" on this page, p.562 "moral disgust"]

p.450 "The conservative dislike of ambiguity has been demonstrated in numerous apolitical contexts (e.g., responses to visual illusions, taste in entertainment) and is closely related to the differing feelings about novelty, which by definition evokes ambiguity and uncertainty. 39 The differing views of novelty certainly explain the liberal view that with correct reforms, our best days are ahead of us in a novel future, whereas conservatives view our best days as behind us, in familiar circumstances that should be returned to, to make things great again. Once again, these differences in psychological makeup play out in apolitical realms as well—liberals are more likely to own travel books than are conservatives."

p.185 "The cognitive emphasis: Are moral judgments more the outcome of reasoning or of intuition and emotion? Kohlbergians favor the former. But as will be seen in chapter 13, plenty of organisms with limited cognitive skills, including young kids and nonhuman primates, display rudimentary senses of fairness and justice. Such findings anchor “social intuitionist” views of moral decision making, associated with psychologists Martin Hoffman and Jonathan Haidt, both of NYU. 19 Naturally, the question becomes how moral reasoning and moral intuitionism interact. As we’ll see, (a) rather than being solely about emotion, moral intuition is a different style of cognition from conscious reasoning; and (b) conversely, moral reasoning is often flagrantly illogical. Stay tuned. The lack of predictability: Does any of this actually predict who does the harder thing when it’s the right thing to do? Are gold medalists at Kohlbergian reasoning the ones willing to pay the price for whistle-blowing, subduing the shooter, sheltering refugees? Heck, forget the heroics; are they even more likely to be honest in dinky psych experiments? In other words, does moral reasoning predict moral action? Rarely; as we will see in chapter 13, moral heroism rarely arises from super-duper frontal cortical willpower. Instead, it happens when the right thing isn’t the harder thing."

p.195 "glucocorticoids, via inhibiting BDNF, are likely culprits. The connection between childhood adversity and frontocortical maturation pertains to childhood poverty. Work by Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania, Tom Boyce of UCSF, and others demonstrates something outrageous: By age five, the lower a child’s socioeconomic status, on the average, the (a) higher the basal glucocorticoid levels and/ or the more reactive the glucocorticoid stress response, (b) the thinner the frontal cortex and the lower its metabolism, and (c) the poorer the frontal function concerning working memory, emotion regulation, impulse control, and executive decision making; moreover, to achieve equivalent frontal regulation, lower-SES kids must activate more frontal cortex than do higher-SES kids. In addition, childhood poverty impairs maturation of the corpus callosum, a bundle of axonal fibers connecting the two hemispheres and integrating their function. This is so wrong—foolishly pick a poor family to be born into, and by kindergarten, the odds of your succeeding at life’s marshmallow tests are already stacked against you."

p.203 "Berkeley psychologist Diana Baumrind, who in the 1960s identified three key parenting styles (in work since replicated and extended to various cultures). 49 First is authoritative parenting. Rules and expectations are clear, consistent, and explicable—“ Because I said so” is anathema—with room for flexibility; praise and forgiveness trump punishment; parents welcome children’s input; developing children’s potential and autonomy is paramount. By the standards of the educated neurotics who would read (let alone write . . .) this book, this produces a good adult outcome—happy, emotionally and socially mature and fulfilled, independent and self-reliant. Next is authoritarian parenting. Rules and demands are numerous, arbitrary, and rigid and need no justification; behavior is mostly shaped"
. . .
"by punishment; children’s emotional needs are low priorities. Parental motivation is often that it’s a tough, unforgiving world and kids better be prepared. Authoritarian parenting tends to produce adults who may be narrowly successful, obedient, conformist (often with an undercurrent of resentment that can explode), and not particularly happy. Moreover, social skills are often poor because, instead of learning by experience, they grew up following orders. And then there is permissive parenting, the aberration that supposedly let Boomers invent the 1960s. There are few demands or expectations, rules are rarely enforced, and children set the agenda. Adult outcome: self-indulgent individuals with poor impulse control, low frustration tolerance, plus poor social skills thanks to living consequence-free childhoods. Baumrind’s trio was expanded by Stanford psychologists Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin to include neglectful parenting. 50 This addition produces a two-by-two matrix: parenting is authoritative (high demand, high responsiveness), authoritarian (high demand, low responsiveness), permissive (low demand, high responsiveness), or neglectful (low demand, low responsiveness). Importantly, each style usually produces adults with that same approach, with different cultures valuing different styles."

p.220 "This domain of epigenetics was uncovered in a landmark 2004 study by Meaney and colleagues, one of the most cited papers published in the prestigious journal Nature Neuroscience. They had shown previously that offspring of more “attentive” rat mothers (those that frequently nurse, groom, and lick their pups) become adults with lower glucocorticoid levels, less anxiety, better learning, and delayed brain aging. The paper showed that these changes were epigenetic—that mothering style altered the on/ off switch in a gene relevant to the brain’s stress response.*"

p.227 "Next consider “environment,” including the neuron next door, which releases serotonin onto the neuron in question. Suppose less serotonin has been released lately. Sentinel transcription factors in dendritic spines sense this, travel to the DNA, and bind to the promoter upstream of the serotonin receptor gene. More receptor is made and placed in the dendritic spines, and they become more sensitive to the faint serotonin signal."


Epilogue Bullet: " Brains and cultures coevolve."

p.92 "Words have power. They can save, cure, uplift, devastate, deflate, and kill. And unconscious priming with words influences pro-and antisocial behaviors."

p.97 culture shapes what we see "Thus, culture literally shapes how and where you look at the world."

p.267 Figure from Cluture Gender and Math showing girls better at math in Iceland

Culture, Gender, and Math Luigi Guiso1 et al.

p.271 "Contemporary anthropologists like Richard Shweder have emphasized a more affective but still human-centric view of culture as being about moral and visceral versions of right and wrong. And of course these views have been critiqued by postmodernists for reasons I can’t begin to follow."

p.276 "Consider a monkey, a bear, and a banana. Which two go together? Westerners think categorically and choose the monkey and bear—they’re both animals. East Asians think relationally and link the monkey and banana—if you’re thinking of a monkey, also think of food it will need."

p.281 "Recall from the last chapter dopamine and DRD4, the gene for the D4 receptor. It’s extraordinarily variable, with at least twenty-five human variants (with lesser variability in other primates). Moreover, the variation isn’t random, inconsequential drift of DNA sequences; instead there has been strong positive selection for variants. Most common is the 4R variant, occurring in about half of East Asians and European Americans. There’s also the 7R variant, producing a receptor less responsive to dopamine in the cortex, associated with novelty seeking, extroversion, and impulsivity. It predates modern humans but became dramatically more common ten to twenty thousand years ago. The 7R variant occurs in about 23 percent of Europeans and European Americans. And in East Asians? 1 percent."

... "Finally there are the descendants of folks who made it all the way to the Amazon basin—the Ticuna, Surui, and Karitiana—with a roughly 70 percent incidence of 7R, the highest in the world. In other words, the descendants of people who, having made it to the future downtown Anchorage, decided to just keep going for another six thousand miles.* A high incidence of 7R, associated with impulsivity and novelty seeking, is the legacy of humans who made the greatest migrations in human history."

p.304 religion "Or maybe inventing deities is an emergent by-product of the architecture of our social brains."

... "Before turfing this subject to the final chapter, three obvious points: (a) a religion reflects the values of the culture that invented or adopted it, and very effectively transmits those values; (b) religion fosters the best and worst of our behaviors; (c) it’s complicated."

p.324 gossip "Gossip is a weapon of norm enforcement."

Us versus Them

Epilogue Bullet: " We implicitly divide the world into Us and Them, and prefer the former. We are easily manipulated, even subliminally and within seconds, as to who counts as each."

Epilogue Bullet: " Be dubious about someone who suggests that other types of people are like little crawly, infectious things."

p.39 "the default state is to trust, and what the amygdala does is learn vigilance and distrust."

p.388 IAT "Rapid, automatic biases against a Them can be demonstrated with the fiendishly clever Implicit Association Test (IAT). 3 Suppose you are unconsciously prejudiced against trolls. To simplify the IAT enormously: A computer screen flashes either pictures of humans or trolls or words with positive connotations (e.g., “honest”) or negative ones (“ deceitful”). Sometimes the rule is “If you see a human or a positive term, press the red button; if it’s a troll or a negative term, press the blue button.” And sometimes it’s “Human or negative term, press red; troll or positive term, press blue.” Because of your antitroll bias, pairing a troll with a positive term, or a human with a negative, is discordant and slightly distracting. Thus you pause for a few milliseconds before pressing a button."

p.399 "In line with this, individuals with a high “social dominance orientation” (acceptance of hierarchy and group inequality) are most likely to enjoy jokes about out-groups."

p.440 "The higher someone’s SDO score, the less activation of those two regions. Those with the most interest in prestige and power seem least likely to feel for those less fortunate."

p.400 & p.404 "Such automaticity generates statements like “I can’t put my finger on why, but it’s just wrong when They do that.” Work by Jonathan Haidt of NYU shows that in such circumstances, cognitions are post-hoc justifications for feelings and intuitions, to convince yourself that you have indeed rationally put your finger on why."

"Our cognitions run to catch up with our affective selves, searching for the minute factoid or plausible fabrication that explains why we hate Them."

p.408 "Given facts like these, it is not surprising that racial Us/ Them dichotomies are frequently trumped by other classifications. The most frequent is gender."

p.629 "The core of that thought is Susan Fiske’s demonstration that automatic other-race-face amygdala responses can be undone when subjects think of that face as belonging to a person, not a Them. The ability to individuate even monolithic and deindividuated monsters can be remarkable."

p.410 "Thus Us/Them dichotomies can wither away into being historical trivia questions like the Cagots and can have their boundaries shifted at the whims of a census. Most important, we have multiple dichotomies in our heads, and ones that seem inevitable and crucial can, under the right circumstances, have their importance evaporate in an instant."

p.416 "Young humans are like chimps—six-year-olds not only prefer to be with kids like themselves (by whatever criteria) but readily say so. It isn’t until around age ten that kids learn that some feelings and thoughts about Thems are expressed only at home, that communication about Us/ Them is charged and contextual."

p.419 "These can be powerful effects. And to be more than merely semantic, the malleability of automatic responses (e.g., of the amygdala) shows that “automatic” does not equal “inevitable.”"

p.422 "Individual differences in how people feel about hierarchy help explain variation in the extent of Them-ing. This is shown in studies examining social-dominance orientation (SDO: how much someone values prestige and power) and right-wing authoritarianism (RWA: how much someone values centralized authority, the rule of law, and convention). 75 High-SDO individuals show the greatest increases in automatic prejudices when feeling threatened; more acceptance of bias against low-status out-groups; if male, more tolerance of sexism. And as discussed, people high in SDO (and/ or in RWA) are less bothered by hostile humor about out-groups."

p.430 be on the side of angels "If we accept that there will always be sides, it’s a nontrivial to-do list item to always be on the side of angels. Distrust essentialism. Keep in mind that what seems like rationality is often just rationalization, playing catch-up with subterranean forces that we never suspect. Focus on the larger, shared goals. Practice perspective taking. Individuate, individuate, individuate. Recall the historical lessons of how often the truly malignant Thems keep themselves hidden and make third parties the fall guy."

"And in the meantime, give the right-of-way to people driving cars with the “Mean people suck” bumper sticker, and remind everyone that we’re all in it together against Lord Voldemort and the House Slytherin."

Income Inequality

Epilogue Bullet: " When humans invented socioeconomic status, they invented a way to subordinate like nothing that hierarchical primates had ever seen before."

p.431 "Recall the study of thirty-seven countries showing that the more income inequality, the more preadolescent bullying in schools. In other words, countries with more brutal socioeconomic hierarchies produce children who enforce their own hierarchies more brutally."

p.295 "But the more income inequality, the greater the financial distance between the wealthy and the average and thus the less direct benefit the wealthy feel from improving public goods. Instead they benefit more from dodging taxes and spending on their private good—a chauffeur, a gated community, bottled water, private schools, private health insurance. As Evans writes, “The more unequal are incomes in a society, the more pronounced will be the disadvantages to its better-off members from public expenditure, and the more resources will those members have [available to them] to mount effective political opposition” (e.g., lobbying). Evans notes how this “secession of the wealthy” promotes “private affluence and public squalor.” Meaning worse health for the have-nots."

... "Kaplan has shown, for example, that states with more income inequality spend proportionately less money on that key crime-fighting tool, education. As with inequality and health, the psychosocial and neomaterial routes synergize."

p.249 "How’s this for fascinating: Heritability of various aspects of cognitive development is very high (e.g., around 70 percent for IQ) in kids from high–socioeconomic status (SES) families but is only around 10 percent in low-SES kids. Thus, higher SES allows the full range of genetic influences on cognition to flourish, whereas lower-SES settings restrict them. In other words, genes are nearly irrelevant to cognitive development if you’re growing up in awful poverty—poverty’s adverse effects trump the genetics.* Similarly, heritability of alcohol use is lower among religious than nonreligious subjects—i.e., your genes don’t matter much if you’re in a religious environment that condemns drinking. Domains like these showcase the potential power of classical behavior genetics."

p.434 "in lots of social species, attaining high rank is about sharp teeth and good fighting skills. But maintaining the high rank is about social intelligence and impulse control: knowing which provocations to ignore and which coalitions to form, understanding other individuals’ actions."

p.486 "Given the relatively limited reasoning capacities of monkeys, these findings support the importance of social intuitionism. De Waal perceives even deeper implications—the roots of human morality are older than our cultural institutions, than our laws and sermons. Rather than human morality being spiritually transcendent (enter deities, stage right), it transcends our species boundaries."

p.489 "By now I bet readers can predict which brain region( s) activates in each circumstance. Contemplate pulling the lever, and dlPFC activity predominates, the detached, cerebral profile of moral reasoning. Contemplate consigning the person to death by pushing them, and it’s vmPFC (and amygdala), the visceral profile of moral intuition."

p.493 "Going easy on ourselves also reflects a key cognitive fact: we judge ourselves by our internal motives and everyone else by their external actions. 26 And thus, in considering our own misdeeds, we have more access to mitigating, situational information."

p.503 "Anthropologists, studying everyone from hunter-gatherers to urbanites, have found that about two thirds of everyday conversation is gossip, with the vast majority of it being negative. As has been said, gossip (with the goal of shaming) is a weapon of the weak against the powerful. It has always been fast and cheap and is infinitely more so now in the era of the Scarlet Internet."

"Amid the potential good that can come from such shaming, Jacquet also emphasizes the dangers of contemporary shaming, which is the savagery with which people can be attacked online and the distance such venom can travel—in a world where getting to anonymously hate the sinner seems more important than anything about the sin itself."

p.507 "When shortsighted utilitarianism (what Woodward and Allman call “parametric” consequentialism) is replaced with a longer-viewed version (what they call “strategic” consequentialism and what Greene calls “pragmatic utilitarianism”), you get better outcomes."

p.508 "The synergistic advantages of combining reasoning with intuition raise an important point. If you’re a fan of moral intuitions, you’d frame them as being foundational and primordial. If you don’t like them, you’d present them as simplistic, reflexive, and primitive. But as emphasized by Woodward and Allman, our moral intuitions are neither primordial nor reflexively primitive. They are the end products of learning; they are cognitive conclusions to which we have been exposed so often that they have become automatic,..."

p.509 "For each side, perceiving themselves as having a “right” to do things their way mostly means that they have slathered enough post-hoc, Haidtian rationalizations on a shapeless, self-serving, parochial moral intuition;"

p.510 "In general, our morally tinged cultural institutions—religion, nationalism, ethnic pride, team spirit—bias us toward our best behaviors when we are single shepherds facing a potential tragedy of the commons. They make us less selfish in Me versus Us situations. But they send us hurtling toward our worst behaviors when confronting Thems and their different moralities."

p.519 "And now for probably the most important finding in this chapter. What about subjects who never cheated? There are two very different scenarios, as framed by Greene and Paxton: Is resisting temptation at every turn an outcome of “will,” of having a stoked dlPFC putting Satan into a hammerlock of submission? Or is it an act of “grace,” where there’s no struggle, because it’s simple; you don’t cheat?"

"It was grace. In those who were always honest, the dlPFC, vlPFC, and ACC were in veritable comas when the chance to cheat arose. There’s no conflict. There’s no working hard to do the right thing. You simply don’t cheat."

"Resisting temptation is as implicit as walking up stairs, or thinking “Wednesday” after hearing “Monday, Tuesday,” or as that first piece of regulation we mastered way back when, being potty trained."

p.520 "It’s the same thing here: “Why did you never cheat? Is it because of your ability to see the long-term consequences of cheating becoming normalized, or your respect for the Golden Rule, or . . . ?” The answer is “I don’t know [shrug]. I just don’t cheat.” This isn’t a deontological or a consequentialist moment. It’s virtue ethics sneaking in the back door in that moment—“ I don’t cheat; that’s not who I am.” Doing the right thing is the easier thing."


p.528 "When it comes to empathy, all neurobiological roads pass through the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). As introduced in chapter 2, this frontal cortical structure has starred in empathy neuroscience ever since people felt someone else’s pain while inside a brain scanner."

p.531 "Even when it is unclear that a cause of pain lies in injustice, we seek attribution—the intertwining of the ACC with the insula and amygdala is our world of scapegoating. And that pattern is so often there even when pain is random, without human agency or villainy—literal or metaphorical tectonic plates shift, the earth opens up and swallows someone innocent, and we rail against the people who deprived that victim ..., the more the purity of empathy is clouded with the anger, disgust, and indignation of blame, the harder it is to actually help."

"When do the more cognitive components of an empathic state—the PFC, the dlPFC in particular, along with Theory of Mind networks such as the temporoparietal juncture (TPJ) and superior central sulcus—come more to the forefront? Obviously, and uninterestingly, when it’s challenging to even figure out what’s going on—“ ..."

"In other words, cognitive processes serve as a gatekeeper, deciding whether a particular misfortune is worthy of empathy."

p.533 "The ease of empathizing with people like us starts at the level of autonomic building blocks of empathy—in one study of ritual fire walkers in Spain, heart rate changes in the walkers synchronized with spectators—but only those who were relatives. In line with that distinction, taking the perspective of a loved one in pain activates the ACC; doing the same for a stranger activates the TPJ, that region central to Theory of Mind."

p.169 empathy - feeling too much "But feeling too much has problems as well. Feeling someone else’s pain is painful, and people who do so most strongly, with the most pronounced arousal and anxiety, are actually less likely to act prosocially. Instead the personal distress induces a self-focus that prompts avoidance—“ This is too awful; I can’t stay here any longer.” As empathic pain increases, your own pain becomes your primary concern."

p.543 "Look at someone in pain with the instruction to take a self-oriented perspective, and the amygdala, ACC, and insular cortex activate, along with reports of distress and anxiety. Do the same with an other-oriented perspective, and all are less likely. And the more extreme the former state, the more likely that someone’s focus will be to lessen their own distress, to metaphorically look the other way."

p.566 "Subjects who held the warm cup rated the individual as having a warmer personality (without altering ratings about other characteristics). In the next part of the study, the temperature of a held object altered subjects’ generosity and levels of trust—cold hands, cold heart. And a more activated insula, as shown in a follow-up study."

p.560 "The neurotransmitter substance P plays a central role in communicating painful signals from pain receptors in skin, muscles, and joints up into the brain. It’s got pain-ometer written all over it."

p.587 "The M’Naghten rule was at the core of John Hinckley Jr. being found not guilty for reasons of insanity in his attempted assassination of Reagan in 1981, being hospitalized rather than jailed."

p.595 [growth mindset] "Kids do a task, take a test, something, where they do it well. You then praise them in one of two ways—“ What a great score; you must be so smart” or “What a great score, you must have worked so hard.” When you praise kids for working hard, they tend to work harder the next time, show more resilience, enjoy the process more, and become more likely to value the accomplishment for its own sake (rather than for the grade). Praise kids for being smart, and precisely the opposite occurs. When it becomes all about being smart, effort begins to seem suspect, beneath you—after all, if you’re really so smart, you shouldn’t have to work hard; you glide, you don’t sweat and grunt."

p.124 Figure for Good & Bad Stress

p.144 "There’s wonderful context dependency to these effects. When a rat secretes tons of glucocorticoids because it’s terrified, dendrites atrophy in the hippocampus. However, if it secretes the same amount by voluntarily running on a running wheel, dendrites expand. Whether the amygdala is also activated seems to determine whether the hippocampus interprets the glucocorticoids as good or bad stress. 11"

p.178 "Thus there are stages of gaze following, followed by primary ToM, then secondary ToM, then perspective taking, with the speed of transitions influenced by experience (e.g., kids with older siblings achieve ToM earlier than average)."

p.622 "Enough is known about the neurobiology of religiosity that there’s even a journal called Religion, Brain and Behavior. Reciting a familiar prayer activates mesolimbic dopaminergic systems. Improvising one activates regions associated with Theory of Mind, as you try to understand a deity’s perspective (“ God wants me to be humble in addition to grateful; better make sure I mention that”)."

p.105 testosterone "rising testosterone levels increase aggression only at the time of a challenge. Which is precisely how things work."
. . .
"The challenge hypothesis has a second part to it. When testosterone rises after a challenge, it doesn’t prompt aggression. Instead it prompts (whatever behaviors are needed to maintain status). This changes things enormously."

p.112 dogs, humans, oxytocin "), the brains of humans and domesticated wolves evolved a new response to oxytocin: when a dog and its owner (but not a stranger) interact, they secrete oxytocin."

p.163 adolescents don't like small rewards. "In children, a correct answer produced roughly the same increase in activity regardless of size of reward. In adults, small, medium, and large rewards caused small, medium, and large increases in accumbens activity. And adolescents? After a medium reward things looked the same as in kids and adults. A large reward produced a humongous increase, much bigger than in adults. And the small reward? Accumbens activity declined. In other words, adolescents experience bigger-than-expected rewards more positively than do adults and smaller-than-expected rewards as aversive. A gyrating top, nearly skittering out of control."


[ jch ] - The epilogue is 31 bullet points with concise statements of the key ideas of the book. While taking notes I starred 15 of them. Copying the whole epiologue seems like a copyright violation, so, I tried to pick the seven that meant the most to ME. I think I ended up with 9. Most have been sprinkled thru-out the themes. Here are a few I liked outside of my theme, in the still vast array of topics the book covers. Epilogue Bullet: " People kill and are willing to be killed for symbolic sacred values. Negotiations can make peace with Them; understanding and respecting the intensity of their sacred values can make lasting peace."

2018.03.15 YON <>