What can biology tell us about human aggression, empathy, and our moral behavior? Robert Sapolsky discusses these issues and more in a broad biological survey of human aggression that starts with an ethologists attention to understanding the context of the behavior itself and then examines the full timeline of biological factors that lead to the behavior from the most proximal (closest) to the most distal (furthest) factors: neurology, releasing stimuli, acute and chronic hormonal situation, cultural factors, perinatal biology and developmental environment, genetics, and the evolutionary and environmental influences.
This discussion is based on 3½ Robert Sapolsky videos in almost 6 hours of lectures. Watching the videos and reading my notes are optional, but the material is so fascinating that I invite you to delve into it and explore it more deeply noting any questions that occur to you.
Aggression I (last 45 minutes of a 1h 35m video). In the second half of this video Sapolsky begins the discussion on aggression with some stories. Humans value aggression when it is in the right context. He then explores how human aggression and empathy are (and are not) unique in the animal kingdom. At the end of the video he starts an in depth discussion of the neurology of aggression with a focus on the amygdala. Read my extensive notes summarizing Sapolsky's discussion. Read the notes of a Sapolsky fan.
Aggression II (1h 45m video). In this video the discussion on the neurology of aggression continues with a detailed look at the role of the frontal cortex in the limbic system (our emotional brain). Then he discusses the fascinating topic of metaphor in the brain. He ends by starting a discussion on hormones and aggression. Read my extensive notes summarizing Sapolsky's discussion. Read the notes of a Sapolsky fan.
Aggression III (1 h 41m video). In this video he starts with a review of the topic of metaphor in the brain. Then he continues the topic of hormones and aggression with discussions on serotonin, testosterone, perimenstral effects, and alcohol. Then he looks at ways to trigger aggression (pain is the biggest one). Then he examines various theories and results on environmental (including peers and community) & developmental effects on morality. Read my extensive notes summarizing Sapolsky's discussion. Read the notes of a Sapolsky fan.
Aggression IV (1h 42m video). This video looks briefly at hormonal and genetic effects on aggression. The majority of the video explores the cultural, ecological, environmental, and evolutionary effects of aggression and cooperation. The ending is oh so poignant! Read my extensive notes summarizing Sapolsky's discussion. Read the notes of a Sapolsky fan.
This topic is a repeat of the one on Sunday May 4th.
I have led several previous discussions on Robert Sapolsky videos. Here is a collection of links to those events for your reference. The Uniqueness and Evolution of Humans (15 Apr 2012) is based on a commencement speech Sapolsky delivered. The other discussions have been based on Sapolsky's course BIO 250, HUMBIO 160: Human Behavioral Biology. There were two discussions on "The Evolutionary and Genetic Bases of Human Behavior" which covered videos 2-7 of the course on 14 Jul 2013 and 27 Jul 2013, two discussions on "The Biology of Learning" which covered videos 8 & 9 of the course on 10 Nov 2013 and 30 Nov 2013. There were three discussions on "Brain Science and Human Behavior" which covered videos 10-14 of the course on 12 Jan 2014, 18 Jan 2014, and 2 Feb 2014. There were two discussions on "The Biology of Human Sexual Behavior" which covered videos 15-17 of the course on 9 March 2014 and 15 March 2014.