Robert Sapolsky Quotes
Books by Robert Sapolsky
Best 56 Quotes by Robert Sapolsky – Page 1 of 2
“Being healthy consists of having the same disease as everyone else.”
“Dopamine is not about the happiness of reward. It's about the happiness of pursuit of reward that has a decent chance of occurring.”
“I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up; instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla.”
“I love science, and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awed by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it.”
“If a rat is a good model for your emotional life, you're in big trouble.”
“If we were designed by engineers, as we consumed more, we'd desire less. But our frequent human tragedy is that the more we consume, the hungrier we get.
More and faster and stronger. What was an unexpected pleasure yesterday is what we feel entitled to today, and what won't be enough tomorrow.”
“Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it.”
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“We are constantly being shaped by seemingly irrelevant stimuli, subliminal information, and internal forces we don't know a thing about.”
“Willpower is more than just a metaphor; self-control is a finite resource.”
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“We live well enough to have the luxury to get ourselves sick with purely social, psychological stress.”
“A final depressing point about inequality and violence. As we’ve seen, a rat being shocked activates a stress response. But a rat being shocked who can then bite the hell out of another rat has less of a stress response. Likewise with baboons — if you are low ranking, a reliable way to reduce glucocorticoid secretion is to displace aggression onto those even lower in the pecking order.
It’s something similar here — despite the conservative nightmare of class warfare, of the poor rising up to slaughter the wealthy, when inequality fuels violence, it is mostly the poor preying on the poor. This point is made with a great metaphor for the consequences of societal inequality. The frequency of 'air rage' — a passenger majorly, disruptively, dangerously losing it over something on a flight — has been increasing.
Turns out there’s a substantial predictor of it: if the plane has a first-class section, there’s almost a fourfold increase in the odds of a coach passenger having air rage. Force coach passengers to walk through first class when boarding, and you more than double the chances further. Nothing like starting a flight by being reminded of where you fit into the class hierarchy.
And completing the parallel with violent crime, when air rage is boosted in coach by reminders of inequality, the result is not a crazed coach passenger sprinting into first class to shout Marxist slogans. It’s the guy being awful to the old woman sitting next to him, or to the flight attendant.”
“A remarkably consistent finding, starting with elementary school students, is that males are better at math than females. While the difference is minor when it comes to considering average scores, there is a huge difference when it comes to math stars at the upper extreme of the distribution. For example, in 1983, for every girl scoring in the highest percentile in the math SAT, there were 11 boys.
Why the difference? There have always been suggestions that testosterone is central. During development, testosterone fuels the growth of a brain region involved in mathematical thinking and giving adults testosterone enhances their math skills. Oh, okay, it's biological.
But consider a paper published in science in 2008. The authors examined the relationship between math scores and sexual equality in 40 countries based on economic, educational and political indices of gender equality. The worst was Turkey, United States was middling, and naturally, the Scandinavians were tops
Low and behold, the more gender equal the country, the less of a discrepancy in math scores. By the time you get to the Scandinavian countries it's statistically insignificant. And by the time you examine the most gender equal country on earth at the time, Iceland, girls are better at math than boys.
Footnote, note that the other reliable sex difference in cognition, namely better reading performance by girls than by boys doesn't disappear in more gender equal societies. It gets bigger. In other words, culture matters. We carry it with us wherever we go.”
“Archaeologists do something impressive, reflecting disciplinary humility. When archaeologists excavate a site, they recognize that future archaeologists will be horrified at their primitive techniques, at the destructiveness of their excavating.
Thus they often leave most of a site untouched to await their more skillful disciplinary descendants. For example, astonishingly, more than forty years after excavations began, less than 1 percent of the famed Qin dynasty terra-cotta army in China has been uncovered.”
“Eyes often have an implicit censorious power. Post a large picture of a pair of eyes at a bus stop (versus a picture of flowers), and people become more likely to clean up litter. Post a picture of eyes in a workplace coffee room, and the money paid on the honor system triples. Show a pair of eyes on a computer screen and people become more generous in online economic games.”
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“If you (or any other mammal) bite into rancid food, the insular cortex lights up, causing you to spit it out, gag, feel nauseated, make a revolted facial expression — the insular cortex processes gustatory disgust. Ditto for disgusting smells.”
“If you’re stressed like a normal mammal in an acute physical crisis, the stress response is lifesaving. But if instead you chronically activate the stress response for reasons of psychological stress, your health suffers.”
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“A professorship of theology should have no place in our institution.”
“In a reductionist view, understanding something complex requires breaking it down into its components; understand those parts, add them together, and you’ll understand the big picture. And in this reductionist world, to understand cells, organs, bodies, and behavior, the best constituent part to study is genes.”
“In other words, the default state is to trust, and what the amygdala does is learn vigilance and distrust.”
“In the West we nearly all have strong moral intuitions about the wrongness of slavery, child labor, or animal cruelty. But that sure didn’t used to be the case.
Their wrongness has become an implicit moral intuition, a gut instinct concerning moral truth, only because of the fierce moral reasoning (and activism) of those who came before us, when the average person’s moral intuitions were unrecognizably different. Our guts learn their intuitions.”
“Irrational optimism can be great; it’s why only about 15 percent instead of 99 percent of humans get clinically depressed.”
“It is easier to learn fear and harder to unlearn it.”
“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.”
“Pain makes aggressive people more aggressive, while doing the opposite to unaggressive individuals.”
“Pretty straightforwardly, the more categories of adversities a child suffers, the dimmer his or her chances of a happy, functional adulthood.”
“Priming people to think of God as punitive decreases cheating; thinking of God as forgiving increases it. The researchers then studied subjects from sixty-seven countries, considering the prevalence in each of belief in the existence of a heaven and hell.
The greater the skew toward belief in hell, rather than heaven, the lower the national crime rate. When it comes to Eternity, sticks apparently work better than carrots.”
“Social conservatives tend toward lower thresholds for disgust than liberals.”
“Sustained stress has numerous adverse effects. The amygdala becomes overactive and more coupled to pathways of habitual behavior; it is easier to learn fear and harder to unlearn it.”
“Testosterone also increases confidence and optimism, while decreasing fear and anxiety. This explains the 'winner' effect in lab animals, where winning a fight increases an animal’s willingness to participate in, and its success in, another such interaction.
Part of the increased success probably reflects the fact that winning stimulates testosterone secretion, which increases glucose delivery and metabolism in the animal’s muscles and makes his pheromones smell scarier.
Moreover, winning increases the number of testosterone receptors in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (the way station through which the amygdala communicates with the rest of the brain), increasing its sensitivity to the hormone.”
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“Testosterone has far less to do with aggression than most assume. Within the normal range, individual differences in testosterone levels don’t predict who will be aggressive. Moreover, the more an organism has been aggressive, the less testosterone is needed for further aggression.
When testosterone does play a role, it’s facilitatory — testosterone does not 'invent' aggression. It makes us more sensitive to triggers of aggression. Also, rising testosterone levels foster aggression only during challenges to status.
Finally, crucially, the rise in testosterone during a status challenge does not necessarily increase aggression; it increases whatever is needed to maintain status. In a world in which status is awarded for the best of our behaviors, testosterone would be the most prosocial hormone in existence.”
“Testosterone makes people cocky, egocentric, and narcissistic.”
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“Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. That’s why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.”
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