Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition

Course No. 1597
Professor Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D.
Stanford University
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Course No. 1597
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Course Overview

When are we responsible for our own actions, and when are we in the grip of biological forces beyond our control? This intriguing question is the scientific province of behavioral biology, a field that explores interactions among the brain, mind, body, and environment that have a surprising influence on how we behave—from the people we fall in love with, to the intensity of our spiritual lives, to the degree of our aggressive impulses. In short, it is the study of how our brains make us the individuals that we are.

Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition, is an interdisciplinary approach to this fascinating subject. In 24 lectures, you will investigate how the human brain is sculpted by evolution, constrained or freed by genes, shaped by early experience, modulated by hormones, and otherwise influenced to produce a wide range of behaviors, some of them abnormal. You will see that little can be explained by thinking about any one of these factors alone because some combination of influences is almost always at work.

Intense, Dynamic, and Entertaining

This course is a newly recorded and much-expanded update of Professor Robert Sapolsky's original Teaching Company course introduced in 1998, which was lauded as "extremely stimulating" by The American Biology Teacher.

A prominent neurobiologist, zoologist, and MacArthur "genius" grant recipient, Professor Sapolsky is a spellbinding lecturer who is also very entertaining. In a feature story in The New York Times, he was compared to a cross between renowned primatologist Jane Goodall and a borscht belt comedian. An article in the alumni magazine at Stanford University, where he teaches, called him "a man who exudes adrenaline and has a reservoir of intensity deep enough to spin the turbines at Hoover Dam."

What You Will Learn

The course opens with an introductory lecture and then proceeds to Modules I and II, which start at the level of how a single neuron works. You build upward to examine how millions of neurons in a particular region of the brain operate. The focus is on the regions of the brain most pertinent to emotion and behavior.

Modules III, IV, and V explore how the brain and behavior are regulated. First, you cover how the brain regulates hormones and how hormones influence brain function and behavior. Next you examine how both the brain and behavior evolved, covering contemporary thinking about how natural selection has sculpted and optimized behavior and how that optimization is mediated by brain function. Then you focus on a bridge between evolution and the brain, investigating what genes at the molecular level have to do with brain function and how those genes have evolved.

Module VI examines ethology, which is the study of the behavior of animals in their natural habitats. The focus in these lectures is on how hormones, evolution, genes, and behavior are extremely sensitive to environment.

Finally, Module VII explores how the various approaches—neurobiology, neuroendocrinology, evolution, genetics, and ethology—help explain an actual set of behaviors, with a particular focus on aggression. The final lecture summarizes what is known about the biology of human behavior and probes the societal implications of having such knowledge.

Insight into Yourself and Others

As you work through this thought-provoking and engaging material, you will learn much about your own behavior, not to mention that of others. One particularly intriguing region of the brain relating to behavior is the frontal cortex, which plays a central role in decision-making, gratification postponement, and other important functions. The frontal cortex is the part of the brain that "makes you do the harder thing," whether it is concentrating on an unwelcome task, keeping anger under control, or telling a white lie about a spouse's new haircut. Consider these cases:

  • What happens when there is essentially no frontal cortex?: Railroad worker Phineas Gage suffered a massive frontal cortical lesion in a serious accident in the 1840s. Overnight, he changed from a sober, conscientious worker to a profane, aggressive, socially inappropriate man who could never regularly work again. The loss of his frontal cortex meant he lost his emotional regulation; he had no means to do the "harder thing."
  • What happens when the frontal cortex is "offline"?: During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the frontal cortex goes offline, which explains why dreams are often wild and unrepressed—why dreams are dreamlike. People don't dream about balancing a checkbook. They dream about dancing in musicals or floating in the air.
  • What happens when the frontal cortex is immature?: One of the great myths is that the brain is completely wired up and matured at a very early stage. However, the frontal cortex is not fully functional until an individual is about a quarter-century old—a fact that explains a lot of fraternity behavior, notes Professor Sapolsky. With this in mind, it's worth asking if a 16-year-old violent criminal is not, by definition, organically impaired in frontal cortical function.

Myths that Die Hard

The myth of the fully wired, mature young brain is one of the often-heard pieces of misinformation that this course corrects. Other areas where Professor Sapolsky revises widely held beliefs include:

  • "For the good of the species": The old notion of group selection has been proven wildly incorrect. This is the idea that animals behave "for the good of the species" and that behaviors are driven by ways to increase the likelihood of the species surviving and multiplying. Evolution is not about animals behaving for the good of the species but, rather, behaving to optimize the number of copies of their own genes to pass on to the next generation.
  • The inevitability of social structures: Professor Sapolsky's own fieldwork in Africa has shown that an archetypal male-dominated, aggressive society of baboons can change radically to a tradition of low aggression within a single generation. "If these guys are freed from the central casting roles for them in the anthropology textbooks, we as a species have no excuse to say we have inevitable social structures," he says.

Cause for Concern and Hope

At the end of the course, Professor Sapolsky explores the implications of our emerging understanding of the origins of individual differences. How much do these insights threaten our own sense of self and individuality? Where do we draw the line between the essence of the person and the biological abnormalities? What counts as being ill? Who is biologically impaired, and who is just different? As more and more subtle abnormalities of neurobiology are understood, how much should we worry about the temptation to label people as "abnormal"? And what happens when we each have a few of these labels?

These and other questions should concern us all. But while Professor Sapolsky sees alarming trends, he also sees cause for hope. We needn't worry that we are on the verge of unmasking the secret behind everything we do, he says, since we can never explain everything; every answer opens up a dozen new questions. Furthermore, to explain something is not to destroy the capacity to be moved by it. "In the end," says Professor Sapolsky, "the purpose of science is not to cure us of our sense of mystery and wonder but to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate it."

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Biology and Behavior—An Introduction
    Professor Robert Sapolsky outlines the course, emphasizing that there is a neurobiology to who we are; it is vital that we learn about it; and it can be understood best through the interdisciplinary approach of this course. x
  • 2
    The Basic Cells of the Nervous System
    You begin a trio of lectures on the neurobiology of behavior at the cellular level. An overview of how a single neuron works explores the difference between the neuron's quiescent state, or resting potential, and its excited state, or action potential. x
  • 3
    How Two Neurons Communicate
    In this lecture you expand your study of neurons to see how two neurons communicate through the use of neurotransmitters—chemical messengers in the brain—and you examine the effects of certain drugs on the brain and on the neurological origins of individuality. x
  • 4
    Learning and Synaptic Plasticity
    This lecture describes how communication between neurons changes as a result of experience. The focus is on long-term potentiation (LTP) and how the process occurs in the hippocampus, with implications for learning and memory; and in the amygdala, with implications for fear and anxiety. x
  • 5
    The Dynamics of Interacting Neurons
    Expanding beyond the scale of the cell, you begin a three-lecture survey of the systems level. In this lecture you look at how neurons sharpen detection signals through inhibition and how layers of neurons that overlap and form networks affect individual memory, pain, and creativity. x
  • 6
    The Limbic System
    You investigate how subregions of the brain made of millions of neurons function. The focus is on the limbic system, which is most centrally involved in emotion and in generating emotional behavior. The limbic system will be central to the rest of the course. x
  • 7
    The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
    Professor Sapolsky examines how the limbic system regulates the function of the body by way of the autonomic nervous system and its subparts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. x
  • 8
    The Regulation of Hormones by the Brain
    The first of two lectures on hormones and behavior examines how the limbic system regulates the body through the release of many types of hormones. You review the nature of this regulation and the basic ways hormones work. x
  • 9
    The Regulation of the Brain by Hormones
    This lecture considers the converse of the brain's regulation of hormones, namely, the hormones' regulation of the brain. How can hormones change the function and even the very structure of the brain? A key point of this and the preceding lecture is to refute the view that hormones "cause" behaviors. x
  • 10
    The Evolution of Behavior
    The first of three lectures on the evolution of the brain and behavior reviews the mechanisms of evolution and then looks at the ways species can maximize through behavioral means the number of copies of their genes passed on to the next generation. x
  • 11
    The Evolution of Behavior—Some Examples
    You investigate how the evolution of behavior helps explain, and even predict, social behavior in numerous species that vary in how aggressive they are, whether they are monogamous or polygamous, and whether males participate in childcare, among other traits. x
  • 12
    Cooperation, Competition, and Neuroeconomics
    You review the evolution of competition and how the brain functions under different settings of competition. The formal analysis of such behavior, called game theory, is introduced and framed in both the context of the evolution of such strategizing and the sort of brains that can accomplish it. x
  • 13
    What Do Genes Do? Microevolution of Genes
    In this first of four lectures on the role of genes in sculpting behavior, you examine what a gene is and does. The main intellectual thrust of this module is to demonstrate the futility of the nature-versus-nurture debate when considering genes and the brain. x
  • 14
    What Do Genes Do? Macroevolution of Genes
    Evolution can be formally defined as changes in the function and distribution of genes in populations over time. But what exactly evolves in a gene on the molecular level? This lecture reviews what mutations are on that level and how they can affect behavior. x
  • 15
    Behavior Genetics
    How can you tell when a behavior has a genetic component? This lecture introduces the field of behavior genetics, which seeks to determine the extent that genes explain qualities such as intelligence, aggression, or introversion/extroversion. x
  • 16
    Behavior Genetics and Prenatal Environment
    The basic premise of behavior genetics is that when research controls for environment it can reveal the effects of genes. This lecture shows that this is virtually impossible to do because genes and environment interact constantly, particularly in the realm of behavior. The lecture also explores the results of environmental effects on fetuses. x
  • 17
    An Introduction to Ethology
    This is the first of two lectures on ethology, the study of animals in their natural habitat, and insights about the human brain and behavior that can be gleaned from it. Here, Professor Sapolsky gives an overview of ethology, a discipline that developed to counter behaviorist psychology. x
  • 18
    Neuroethology
    This lecture explores neuroethology, the study of the neural mechanisms mediating the naturalistic behavior of animals. In particular, you look at how the functioning of the limbic system varies among species and how the human limbic system can be understood in that context. x
  • 19
    The Neurobiology of Aggression I
    The final module of the course applies the previous lessons to the study of aggression. In this lecture you explore the neural bases of aggression—first the neurochemistry of aggressive behavior, then its neuroanatomy, emphasizing the limbic system and the frontal cortex. x
  • 20
    The Neurobiology of Aggression II
    This lecture poses two questions: What environmental events can trigger the limbic system to exert aggressive behavior seconds to minutes later? And how do hormones modulate the sensitivity of the brain to those environmental triggers? You focus on the hormone testosterone. x
  • 21
    Hormones and Aggression
    The first part of this lecture explores how patterns of hormone exposure around the time of birth can influence adult patterns of aggression. The second part examines how genes may influence the neurobiology of aggression but never outside the context of strong environmental interactions. x
  • 22
    Early Experience and Aggression
    You look at the role of environmental factors in aggression occurring days to decades later. In particular, you examine the effect of reward and punishment, early experience and social learning, and the ways those experiences can shape the development of relevant parts of the brain. x
  • 23
    Evolution, Aggression, and Cooperation
    The final lecture in this module looks at the evolution of aggression, examining which evolutionary factors promote aggressive behavior and how evolutionary biology gives scientists insights into ways that aggression might be contained. x
  • 24
    A Summary
    How much do insights into the neurobiology of human behaviors threaten a person's sense of self and individuality? Professor Sapolsky summarizes what science has learned about the neurobiology of individual differences, stressing the profound implications of this knowledge. x

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Your professor

Robert Sapolsky

About Your Professor

Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D.
Stanford University
Dr. Robert Sapolsky is John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University and Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery in Stanford's School of Medicine. Professor Sapolsky earned his A.B. summa cum laude in Biological Anthropology from Harvard University and his Ph.D. in Neuroendocrinology from The Rockefeller University in New York. He is also a research associate at the Institute of...
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Reviews

Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 126.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthralling and entertaining This is (another) must have course! Professor Sapolsky is awe-inspiringly knowledgeable in this area and mixes his erudition with great humour throughout the course. As a non-scientist some of the topics required real focus and concentration buit the Professor sets things up really well in the initial lectures outlining the basics of the nervous system etc. Some of the subject matter was completely novel to me; the lecture on ethology was simply illuminating. The professor is rigorous and ensures that simple causal connections are treated as just that; simple and not truly reflective of the complex interaction between biology and envionment. The issues of individual difference/variation and plasticity were really interesting indeed. If there is one criticism it is that the accompanying booklet was very thin indeed. I do not expect anything like a transscrit like detail but there was more that could reasonably have been added to the narrative for each lecture in the booklet. I would also have welcomed a little more commentatry from the Professor on some of the key texts cited in the bibliography. Overrall i was really impressed and Professor Sapolksky was excellent and I have already purchased his course on stress which i am currently listening to....
Date published: 2012-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from buy this This man is a great lecturer. The best I've had, either in The Great Courses, or in my own education. The material is paradigm changing, and highly entertaining. Just trust me and buy the stupid thing.
Date published: 2012-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Who knew biology could be so much fun?! As a number of other reviewers have mentioned, this course ranks at or near the top of over 40 courses I've purchased. Prof. Sapolsky is a giant in his field, and we are lucky to be able to take this course without paying Stanford tuition! More to the point, Prof. Sapolsky presents some of the most up-to-date and cutting-edge theories about the synthesis between genes and environment to produce behavior. And we are getting it from direct from the horse's mouth (though the wild beard and hair tend to evoke more orangutang that horse.) I listened to the CDs, but had no trouble following the discussion, even when he refers to charts that are in the written material. Having said that, though, I do wish I'd purchased the DVD versions, as it sounds like the visual materials are excellent, and I frankly could have done with seeing the charts on screen rather than trying to construct them in my head from his description. The main thing I would try to convey is the ease with which I was able to follow the course without a strong science background. Prof. Sapolsky distills the essential down into easy to digest bites, apparently without leaving anything major behind. As a result, his descriptions of each building block gives a clear picture of what is going on. Many reviewers also noted Dr. Sapolsky's sense of humor, which is desiccated. I loved it personally. There were a number of occasions when I laughed out loud. All in all a pleasure to listen to while being an incredibly informative experience at the same time. If you like this course and Prof. Sapolsky's sense of humor, I absolutely beg you to go out and get (and read) his "A Primate's Memoir". It is a perfect companion book to this course, and brilliantly funny and hugely insightful at the same time.
Date published: 2012-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Why did they do that? Professor Sapolsky is one of the most gifted academics I've ever learned from. His approach to understanding behavior doesn't limit itself to one category of thinking, such as nature or nuture; he attempts to integrate them all. If you look at the titles of the lectures, you'll see what I mean. The actual integration comes towards the end of the course and is very thoughtful. Given how controversial this territory is, I found Professor Sapolsky to be well balanced; he was respectful of religious beliefs, well-versed in the limitations of science, and doesn't draw conclusions without reason and data. He also shares stories that add a great deal of humanity to the course. I've been studying brain things for a while. I fear that until the next Great Course by Stanford's brain guru, I may not learn much new about why we do anything we do, or I'll have to refer to his logic and diagrams to integrate some new finding. This is my way of saying, "This one goes to eleven." Presentation gets four stars because this is an "older set" great course in that annoying quasi-house; this was when professors still pretended to teach a fake audience that wasn't there. Given the difficulty in understanding this material, I wish TTC would remake this course in their new style. I find that it helps. This isn't an easy one, but this is one of the best courses I've taken. The instruction would be hard to find elsewhere. Another TTC home-run.
Date published: 2012-01-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best This is a great course, pure and simple. I had a pretty rudimentary understanding of how the brain works, but this course gave me an incredible amount of information ranging from the function of individiual neurons to the way the brain relates to the rest of the body. And it threw in the effects of evolution and environment to boot. There was so much interesting information, I immediately listened to about 2/3 of the lectures a second time in an effort to get as much of the information as possible to stick. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2011-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Outstanding Just to give you a sense of how interesting this course is: I decided to watch one lecture each night over dinner (in the TV room of my college dorm). The first night, several of my dorm-mates poked fun at me for watching this stuff, but a couple ended up staying to watch, then more the next night... by the end of the week there was a large group of people waiting for me to show up with the DVD's and they ended up coming every night to finish the set. This is one of the most engaging courses I've come across. The professor has an uncanny ability to get ideas across and an incredibly engaging style. Probably the best course in the Teaching Company's collection.
Date published: 2011-10-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting but Elementary Professor Sapolsky is without a doubt a brilliant and dedicated scientist who brings to the Teaching Company valuable insights into the workings of the nervous system as he uncovers the mysteries of human behavior. Personally he is an unique individual both in his teaching style and background. His long studies of baboon behavior in Kenya and work in endocrinology give him credence in his summations of the interplay between biology and environmental factors. I enjoyed his presentations immensely. Saying that, I was a little disappointed in three aspects of the course. First, the lectures were very elementary as far as the actual biology and descriptions of the nervous system were concerned. If one is interested in learning about the nervous system I would recommend Dr Norden's course on the brain and if biology is your interest i would recommend the course by Dr Nowicki. Both are superior in the content provided. Second, the graphics were rather amateurish and not up to Teaching Company standards. To highlight this factor, just watch a similar presentation on the Science or Discovery Channel. In this area a good picture or diagram is truly worth a thousand words. And finally, it was obvious that Dr Sapolsky possesses a certain political leaning and his feelings came through during the lectures. If this would have been a "Philosophy of" instead of "Biology of" course It would be expected that personal feelings are projected but I feel a scientist should take more care in expressing his personal biases. All in all, the course was worthwhile and a good beginning survey of the factors relating to Human Behavior.
Date published: 2011-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect Introduction to Neuroscience! This course taught me the evidence about the Biological debate between nature vs. nurture in a genuinely introductory manner. Dr. Sapolsky explains everything with such fluidity that the most complex concept is understood in simple terms. His soothing, and almost hypnotizing voice is an added bonus in addition to his charming sense of humor and blunt straight-forwardness. This course left me satisfied with the taste of Neurosciene, but hungry for more!
Date published: 2011-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from HAMSTERS, PIGS, AND WELLESLEY GIRLS ? In connection with some writing I was doing, I purchased the CD's for this course in April 2007. Listening to the lucid voice and far range of Dr Sapolsky's intellect was a startling experience. Since then, listening to them again over the years has been a pleasure. Last year, the GBC program of upgrade to DVD's was taken advantage of, and I finally got around to watching them. If one is considering acquiring these lectures, I would strongly recommend going straight to the DVD's which are the subject of this review. There's no question we are able to view a remarkable teacher. He speaks without notes, and obviously doesn't refer to a teleprompter. His lectures are subtle, and you realize under the humor serious preparation must have gone into how he develops each point. He provides many graphs and diagrams--all non-technical. By moving around, he breaks the pattern of some lecturers sticking to the lectern thus adding to the visual interest. As a layperson in science, I found him easy to follow. The first few lectures cover an excellent, detailed examination of how the brain operates. It is followed by how various systems interact. Along the way, he illustrates with examples from the primate world. In addition to his teaching duties, he has spent a number of years in field work studying baboons. The last three lectures wander somewhat from his field, but are still interesting no matter what one's political preferences are. This is the kind of lecture series that provides great value to those uninitiated in his specialty. Judging from the previous reviews, it appears he also has something to say to those qualified in his field. He gets one's immediate attention by describing a characteristic shared by females of the animal kingdom, including humans. If Dr Sapolsky ever gets bored with his Stanford gig, he could certainly make a living as a stand up comedian. This course is recommended to everyone as both entertaining and very informative
Date published: 2011-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Why did I do that? How did I become the man I am? There are so many factors that make up who we are, an no single factor seems to predominate. We are a mixture of genetic, congenital, chemical, neurological, environmental and other influences- all working en concert with or against each other by varying degrees. It is certainly a complex, imprecise science which is in it's infancy of understanding, and this course is presented in a fashion that is very easy for the layman to comprehend. Professor Sapolsky impressed me with his laid back presentation. His charismatic presencedraws the student into his world of expertise. He has a brilliant mind for this subject and conveys it very effectively.
Date published: 2011-07-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Should've stuck with neurology His presentation of neurology is excellent. However, Sapolsky is often inaccurate when he evaluates disciplines outside of his expertise. For example, Sapolsky labels John Watson (a behaviorist) pathological because Watson is supposedly unable to view the world outside of his "category", that is, behaviorism. Sapolsky then read a quote from "Behaviorism" (1925) by John Watson as evidence. The quote read is as follows: "Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors." The problem with the cherry picked quote is that Sapolsky deliberately (perhaps) left out the last two sentences of this paragraph in which Watson qualified his statement by writing, " I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years. Please note that when this experiment is made I am to be allowed to specify the way the children are to be brought up and the type of world they are to live in." In addition, Sapolsky mentions that John Watson also pursued a successful career in a different discipline (advertising), which would seem to attest to Watson’s ability to be a flexible thinker. By contrast, Sapolsky used Watson's career change as possible evidence of his categorical thinking. Overall, the course is excellent except when Sapolsky steps outside of his field of expertise.
Date published: 2011-02-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Starts off great, goes a little downhill The first part of the series, when the professor describes how the brain works, is fantastic. He explains difficult concepts in ways that are easy to grasp and are entertaining. As the lectures progress, his liberal beliefs tend to intrude into his analysis. I find this presentation style a little offf-putting, regardless of the professor's beliefs, plus it becomes necessary to listen with more skepticism. There were several instances when I thought "but what about this" or "there has to be more to the issue than that". Overall, though, the course was very good, and even the lectures when his political beliefs intrude are still educational.
Date published: 2011-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A pleasure to watch! Professor Sapolsky lays a foundation with the function of a single neuron followed by its expression to a neighbouring neuron through a synapse and the electrical and chemical processes. Neurotransmitters are detailed both in their makeup and function. Thus begins the tale that ends in the neurological origins of individuality. Each lecture of this course contains at least one nugget (usually gold in colour) of information that caused me to say, "Wow. That's fascinating.” and some had more nuggets than others I found my mind wandering from time to time, during the lectures on ethology and neuroethology but I blame myself for that, not the Professor. It was interesting and certainly necessary to the course, just not as interesting to me as the other lectures. Personal bias I guess. Dr. Sapolsky is a brilliant and very strong lecturer, lecturing on higher level topics in lay person terminology. He was never trying to impress us with his knowledge by using higher terminology. He kept things reachable. He obviously knows his stuff, doubtlessly an authoritative professor with a gift for summary, reiteration, simplification and a progressive logic. He effortlessly moved through the material and kept my interest along the way. I enjoyed and think I am now spoiled by his lecture technique, in how he tied each lecture to the next. He would summarize each lecture at the end and refresh our memories as to where we left off in the previous lecture. I don’t remember seeing this happen too often in the courses I have taken, or else I don’t remember. I liked his sarcastic humour, and delivery. He knew his stuff but did not come off trying to impress you with his knowledge. Biology and Human Behaviour: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition, is an interdisciplinary approach to this fascinating subject. You investigate how the human brain is sculpted by evolution, constrained or freed by genes, shaped by early experience, modulated by hormones, and otherwise influenced to produce a wide range of behaviours, some of them abnormal. You will see that little can be explained by thinking about any one of these factors alone because some combination of influences is almost always at work. Interactions among the brain, mind, body, and environment have a surprising influence on how we behave—from the people we fall in love with, to the intensity of our spiritual lives, to the degree of our aggressive impulses. In short, it is the study of how our brains make us the individuals that we are. Starting at the level of how a single neuron works, you build upward to examine how millions of neurons in a particular region of the brain operate. The focus is on the regions of the brain most pertinent to emotion and behaviour. From there explore how the brain regulates hormones and how hormones influence brain function and behaviour. Next you examine how both the brain and behaviour evolved, followed by a bridge between evolution and the brain, investigating what genes at the molecular level have to do with brain function and how those genes have evolved. Ethology, the study of the behaviour of animals in their natural habitats, is next on the menu. The focus in these lectures is on how hormones, evolution, genes, and behaviour are extremely sensitive to environment. The last module explores how the various approaches—neurobiology, neuroendocrinology, evolution, genetics, and ethology—help explain an actual set of behaviours, with a particular focus on aggression. The final lecture summarizes what is known about the biology of human behaviour and probes the societal implications of having such knowledge. An interesting ethical question was presented to the student… what happens when the frontal cortex is immature? One of the great myths is that the brain is completely wired up and matured at a very early stage; however, the frontal cortex is not fully functional until an individual is about 25 years old. With this in mind, it's worth asking if a 16-year-old violent criminal is not, by definition, organically impaired in frontal cortical function. Are we legally responsible for our own actions when are we in the grip of biological forces beyond our control? Oh yes, definitely buy the DVD version which includes more than 150 images, charts, diagrams, and graphics. The professor makes extensive use of the charts and diagrams, which are included in the Course.
Date published: 2011-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course, easy to recommend I was interested in the Stress course and was convinced to buy it after reading the reviews of this course. As a result I bought this as part of a set. Glad I did! Unfortunately I watched the Stress course first and I believe that I would have been better off watching this and then the Stress course. There is a small amount of overlap but the structure of this course is one of the best I have watched. The professor has an excellent speaking voice and he has a unique ability to present highly complicated subjects without making you feel out of your depth. As with many of these courses this is one I feel I will have to watch more than once to get maximum benefit. I thought I knew a great deal about neurotransmitters and their effects but came away from this course knowing how little I really knew. Building from single to multiple to networks of neurons and then discussing brain structure and how the brain influences other organs in the body and in turn how these organs affect the brain. Moving to genetics, ethology and beyond he makes a very clear progression which gave me a much better understanding of these complex subjects. Reading other reviews I note some criticism of what was noted as left coast thinking and anti military bias but being myself non left coast oriented and having served in Vietnam I did not find any problems with his approach. In fact it was refreshing to have him set out his background and leanings and to me none of this took away from his good sense of humor and basic presentation. If anything it reminded you that you need to take any expert in any field as well as any new scientific study with skepticism. What sometimes seem important findings later turn out to have been incorrect and if policy is based on initial findings can do great harm. One example later in the course was regarding a study of a serial killer who was tested in prison and was found to have a unique XYY chromosom leading some to think that this perhaps explained his rampage. Study of others with XYY showed that they did not have this tendency. Then it was found there was a lab error and the killer in fact had only the normal male XY chromosmne. Without being an expert in the field there is no way to know if many of the studies discussed have shortcomings not mentioned but the professor is very persuasive and more than willing to recognize shortcomings and conflicting viewpoints. Anyone with a serious interest in what makes us unique, what causes certain behaviors and developments in the field of human behavior should find this course worth watching. I very much enjoyed his Stress course and am now very glad I bought the set, as I am not sure I would have ordered this course by itself. Can highly recommend both courses.
Date published: 2010-12-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good, just not great Can't quite give this one the fifth star. It is however quite good. Dr. Sapolsky is a brilliant, and very strong lecturer. I like his sarcastic humor, and rapid delivery. I found his (left coast) sensibilities, a little intrusive. But others may not mind his anti-fundamental religion, and anti-military threads. Course dragged a little in the middle, but overall can't argue about it's overall fine value and style.
Date published: 2010-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Course Full of Insights Allow me to add my 5-Star rating to all the previous reviews. This is a superb course, full of "Aha!" moments. Professor Sapolsky's course is a concise introduction to neuroscience and how neuroscience helps explain human behavior. Covered are the anatomy of neurons, nerve clusters, the various areas of the brain, how learning takes place, the autonomic nervous system, and the influences of genes and hormones. Integrated with all these factors are the forces of natural selection and the influence of specific environments on individuals. To top it off, the good professor is a top-notch lecturer who weaves a big, colorful tapestry without sacrificing clarity. This is an excellent course for anyone even slightly interested in human behavior or human individuality. It is worthy of its 5-Star rank!
Date published: 2010-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding One of the top 5 out of the 25 or so courses I have taken.
Date published: 2010-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing...And Funny As I'm sure a few of you know, Sapolsky is a legend in the field, and it's quite a boon for the Teaching Company to have him. I bought this course last year in preparation for applying to a PhD program (I was coming from a totally different field), and it was such a wonderful resource. Sapolsky takes concepts that are complicated (e.g., gene-environment interaction) and makes them totally understandable. He covers all of the really seminal works - a lot of stuff that I'm hearing about now as I'm beginning my program, I learned through this course. Anyway, Sapolsky is also hilarious and uses great graphs and diagrams. I have four TC courses, and they're all at least solid - but this one is perfectly executed.
Date published: 2010-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses I've ever listened to I have listened to or watched 50+ courses from the Teaching Company. This course has been my favorite. This course is so interesting I have listened to it 3 times (which I never do). I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2010-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful course This was one of the first of the great courses I did. I thought is was spectacular. Sapolsky is clear, occasionally extremely funny (deadpan, be awake or you miss it) and very entertaining. The course itself is an excellent resume of what we know about the biological basis of behavior. Since this is a rapidly changing field it would be good to get a new course every few years. I like the course so much i went to hear a Sapolsky lecture, have ready many of his books and will now get his new course on stress.
Date published: 2010-09-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Biology and Human Behavior It is okay... This DVD course is quite bored, and has limited relative and detail graphic and terms. Also, it only for normal person. It is not for deaf person because the DVD course does not have subtitle function =(
Date published: 2010-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stimulating and entertaining course! This is one of the best Teaching Company courses that I have heard/seen. For this one I would recommend getting the DVD so that you can see the charts of the nerve cells, etc. As a psychotherapist I found it useful to know more about how the brain works and the physiological roots of our behavior. The professor is funny and very brilliant.
Date published: 2010-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My favorite so far I have purchased more than 30 Teaching Company courses, and I am almost never disappointed, but this is probably my favorite course so far. As a physician, I was already familiar with most of the neurobiology, but Professor Sapolsky's overview is so clear and engaging that we are into the complexities of neural networks before we realize we forgot to feel confused or left behind. Similarly, the sections on evolution and game theory started with what I already knew--with no sense of dumbing down or condescension--then developed that in ways that were satisfying, insightful, and surprising. Professor Sapolsky knows when to suppress gratuitious detail to maintain focus and when to insert a historical anecdote to heighten interest. As a delightful bonus, his dry and quirky sense of humor is on display throughout. I will definitely purchase any course Professor Sapolsky presents.
Date published: 2010-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a remarkably good course This course is quite impressive for both its depth and breadth--from the chemical reactions inside neurons in our brains to how we have evolved into the creatures we are. Sapolsky is an engaging, personable and at times very funny lecturer who makes very complex material quite clear. I've enjoyed almost all the Teaching Company courses I've taken (about 18 so far) but this is one I'll definitely do again.
Date published: 2010-06-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from One monotonic 24 lecture sentence This lecture series began brilliantly with what is doubtlessly an authoritative professor with a gift for summary, reiteration, simplification and a progressive logic. Professor Sapolsky lays a foundation with the function of a single neuron followed by its expression to a neighboring neuron through a synapse and the electrical and chemical processes. Neurotransmitters are detailed both in their makeup and function. Along the way, the giants of certain schools of thought regarding behavior are introduced along with their methodology, clinical experiments and subsequent conclusions which carried popular acceptance for a given period, followed by the subsequent proofs and evidence that debunked their conclusions. Once the core information and groundwork is presented in an economical and succinct way from a scholar from whom words flow in an unbroken chain, something unexpected began to solidify at least from this listener who had previously been enchanted by the presentation; boredom. After many hours of acclimating to the scholar's unique style of speaking and presentation, at least for me, there was a realization that the lecturer was completely detached from his audience. After 20 lectures it occurred to me that there had not been a single change of facial expression, eye contact was nonexistent at any point and the ease of his effortless flow of words took on a detached self involvement reminiscent of someone thinking out loud as if no one else was listening and if they were it was inconsequential. There are no pauses to allow a posit or a fact to register and he meandered the set like a troubled person mumbling to himself not unlike Raymond in Rainman. At that point, the dispassionate presentation had me losing interest in what was being said just as the key conclusions were being drawn from all the previous groundwork that had been laid. I had the impression that the professor was himself now thoroughly bored from talking so long with only one change of outfit the entire 24 lectures suggesting perhaps he was fatigued and just wanted to accelerate his monotone to get the series over with. In fairness, the course was filled with so much information brilliantly summarized to make it cohesive. But I frankly just lost interest because the presenter himself seemed to lose interest with his expressionless mono-tonal disconnect with his audience. So much information from a brilliant scholar, but for me, at least, his dispassionate presentation made the course an effort to finish.
Date published: 2010-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great topic, Great Course! I enjoyed Dr. Sapolsky's systems level approach to behavior. He did an excellent job of presenting the basics of neural transmission and subsequently the integration of neurons into networks, higher level functions and limbic system structures. The neuroendocrinology section was also exceptional in highlighting the role of hormones in regulating the brain. All of these factors along with the enviroment, evolution, and genetics brought together an excellent platform for a systems approach to behavior. Make no doubt about it, Dr. Sapolsky is trained in biology and neuroendocrinology and not human psychology, and is understandably biased in that direction. I found his treatment of the subject of psychology, especially behavioral psychology, to be somewhat negative and condescending with very little recognition of the contributions to the understanding of human behavior. I also found the section on ethology somewhat simplistic and insignificant in his overall systems approach. However, the big picture he presents is right on target. The discussion of the biological aspects of aggression is very illustrative of the necessity to understand the root causes of human behavior. If eveyone had this basic level of understanding of the biological basis of our behavior it would go a long way towards improving how we deal with certain aspects of human behavior. This is an excellent course!
Date published: 2010-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Biology and Human Behavior Extraordinary presentation - loved it. Listened to lectures on CD in car trips, but would recommend getting the DVD which would make it easier to follow some of the more complex topcis. Plan to review again soon.
Date published: 2010-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course I really enjoyed this course. The content was accessible and went beyond a 4th year cognitive neuroscience course that I attended in 2002. The lecturer was engaging and paced the course well. I would recommend this course to anyone who is interested in how the mind works and what factors can influence behavior.
Date published: 2010-04-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Useful to me (Audio CD version) I got this course because I suffer from chronic pain, and I wanted it as a tool to understand what was going on in my system. It succeeded in that role. It's not the only thing I need to know, but it has been very helpful to me. It also helped me with the overall course goals, and taught me a lot I did not now (a major criteria of mine in determining the value of a course/book, etc.) One real annoyance: in the last lecture the professor lets himself go and refers to some folks with other views as "Neanderthals". C'mon, we can do better than that.
Date published: 2010-04-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Course, Some Issues AUDIO CD Each lecture of this course contains at least one nugget of information that caused me to say, "Wow. That's fascinating." Still, I found my mind wandering from time to time, and even though I liked the core science of the course, I found Prof. Sapolsky's delivery somewhat monotone (he tends to speak in run-on sentences which isn't all that bad, just an interesting quirk). By the last several lectures, and especially the final one, I discovered why I had some issues, and I think an earlier review by DocE caught it: "Lectures 19 through 23 reminded me of the horrors of being forced to agree with Freud in the 80s in order to pass psychology courses. What contrived arguments! Humility, not laid-back hubris, is necessary in scientific discussion." I would go further. Prof. Sapolsky betrays a rather hypocritical ideological bent in his final lecture that would go down smooth with people of like minds, but not with someone looking for true scientific detachment. He spends some time talking about labels, how people would use labels to devalue others based on a misunderstanding of the latest research in biology. Then Prof. Sapolsky turns around and commits the same thing when he has occasion to devalue a class of people he calls Neanderthals. Here he exhibits the same kind of fundamentalism that arises among ideologues who claim to know the Truth. But for certain materialist scientists who are ideologically committed, they take the conscious or unconscious step of thinking they are actually more evolved in a real evolutionary sense then others who hold differing views. That kind of devaluing is unbecoming in someone who should know that true science is by nature conditional, especially considering that virtually all of the major scientific views of 1900 failed to make it to 2000 and if history is any guide, the current views will be quaint in 2100. Still, this course has value and even though I give it 3 stars, I recommend it for the cool and curious studies and insights in each of the earlier lectures. Recommended, but I won't listen to it a second time.
Date published: 2010-04-14
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