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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  • 160-page printed course guidebook
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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 4 out of 5 by from When I started viewing this lecture, I thought "which street corner did they get this guy from"...that's how ingrained I was in "our culture". ( He has taught me better) But when he started talking, it was "Wow!". I thoroughly enjoyed his lectures and would be interested in any subject he would speak on.
Date published: 2010-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Many A-ha moments! I have some background in psychology, neuroanatomy and neurophysiology from my college education. I took those classes more than a decade ago and they were more related to physical function than on environment or genetic influences affecting behavior. I got this course to look deeper into some of the factors that can affect the people I see and I most certainly got my money's worth! The professor is engaging and I even giggled a few times during his presentations, though the humor never distracted from the flow of information. He presents the material very well and is excellent at capturing the essense of the subject without going over someone's head. I listened to it on my commute - MUCH better than the radio - it really keeps my interest. I think it would have gotten 5's straight across the board had I bought the DVD rather than the CD set but I love the course anyway!
Date published: 2010-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Brain on Neurobiology, a must listen! Professor Sapolsky is a masterful teacher and communicates with an adepth respect for the audience of the Teaching Company. I have listened to other lectures about other topics he is an expert on elsewhere and it is a privilege for us to have someone of this calibar speaking on a subject that is so complex because of the many variables both biologically and psychologically which play into why we behave the way we do, for example in his lecutures on aggression, you may be surprised what some of the research shows so I will not tell you so you can find out for yourselves. In some ways I knew that the conclusion would be what he finally does conclude about the biology and it's role in human behavior. Professor Sapolsky is an expert on glucocorticoids, the hippocampus part of the brain and stress and has been instrumental in researching this area for more than thirty years. His manner of speaking is very clear, though you will not get the emotional affectation that Professor Greenberg who teaches the music lectures possesses, however you will get what you need from someone who is an expert on primate behavior and biology and how that impinges on human individual differencess. Professor Sapolsky is one of the brainiacs in the field of neuroendocrinology, neurobiology and I do hope we will see more lectures from him in his resarch with glucocorticoids, baboons and the biology of stress and behavior in the future of the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2010-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Enlightening Professor Sapolsky’s explanations revolve around how biology and genetics can effect (as in “cause” or “create a greater tendency toward”) certain behaviors. He does not neglect environmental issues (nature vs. nurture), so I found the presentation to be relatively well balanced. My wife complained that his presentation style put her to sleep. I did not find it so, but her comment is the reason for 4 stars on presentation. At the time that I purchased the course, I was thinking much more along the lines of neuro-psychology than neurobiology. Once I had shifted my expectations and gone through it a second time, I found the course very enjoyable and exceptionally informative. To add a little “BAM!” to the mix (with due apologies to Emeril), I would highly recommend combining this with Dr. Patrick Grim's "Philosophy of Mind: Brains, Consciousness and Thinking Machines" and/or "Questions of Value". I think the former is a bit more pertinent than the latter, but he examines some of the same issues from a different perspective. Without demeaning Dr. Sapolsky’s fine work, I did find that I had many more questions than answers at the end of it all. For my money, that’s the best indicator of a good course. Because of Dr. Sapolsky's repeated references to some charts and visuals, the course might work a bit better in DVD format than in audio, but the graphics are in the Course Guide and can be printed quite easily.
Date published: 2010-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from WOW! I was captivated by the neuroscience of this coarse and this professor's delivery. Each lecture flew by and I was left wanting even more. This class should be required for all students, high school and/or college. I have recommended this website and this coarse in particular, because of its excellence! His books are also as informative and entertaining!
Date published: 2010-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a masterpiece! Just because a Professor comes from a prestigious University doesn't mean that he teaches well but in my experience it generally does mean that the Professor is very learned. In Prof. Sapolsky's case, he is as learned as they come, pedantic and an exceptional commnunicator/teacher. By the time I reached the end of this course, I felt a renewed enthusiasim for studying and learning more about Brain Science, Neurology and Neuroendocrinology. There are so many other areas one can fall in love with after viewing this lecture. He covered a lot of ground and even got into a little game theory. I am a little puzzled however as to why he mentioned Psychologist Harry Harlow's experiments with surrogate mothers in monkies but he says nothing about Harlow's highly controversial social isolation experiments with monkies. In the outline booklet for this course, he mentions social isolation but says next to nothing about it in the lecture. Harry Harlow's highly controversial social isolation experiments are perhaps the best documented experimental examples of the effects of social isolation. That would have been perfect if he would have talked about that in the parts on the evironmental influence of behavior.
Date published: 2010-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Makes Biology Easy I am rather non tecnical and I thought this might be over my head. I was wrong. This was an excellent course. I could follow the content, and Prof. Sapolsky makes Biodogy interesting.
Date published: 2010-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Yum, yum, yum... There was a point in time where I gave biology a cold-shoulder approach, which is to say I was a some point forced to learn about biology with as much reluctance as I had ignorance. This mindset didn't last, however, and I believe this course played the largest role in this change of heart. You see, I'm an undergraduate psychology major, so of course human behavior interested me to no end, but the behind-the-scenes biology of behavior was never my cup of tea. But after listening to this course, I might actually get a minor in biology! As for Sapolsky's presentation, can a better presentation be asked for? I think not. I found his personal anecdotes particularly interesting, especially the one about his playing soccer (during the discussion of aggression). Mind you, I purchased the audio download, so all I got was his voice. (Speaking of the audio download, the downloadable .pdf booklet contains all the diagrams, etc., necessary to make buying the DVD, well, unnecessary.) Highly recommended.
Date published: 2009-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stimulating and useful material This was my first Teaching Company course and I worry I've been spoiled! The professor was engaging, funny and friendly as well as an expert in the field. The course covered a lot of material - from the most elementary of brain cell structure and function to the interrelations of neurotransmitter and hormone chemistry, social and behavioural conditioning, environmental and genetic forces. The beauty of the class is this synthetic approach. Right from the beginning we are encouraged to see the limitations of keeping the knowledge within the distinct "buckets" of scientific disciplines. I found all the classes facinating and requiring my full attention (fortunately my morning communte has little traffic). The first few are the most demanding (and most alien, as they cover the minute and lightning fast reactions within our brains), the latter part is easier on the brain (dealing with the social, environmental and genetic forces we are more familiar with). I found the coverage of aggression most interesting and appropriate. The lessons have an immediate application in understanding our lives (individual and group), health and behaviour. My only complaint is that the course ended too soon and there are no other ones available from Prof. Sapolsky!
Date published: 2009-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Just Had to Pile On What a fantastic course! Made my commuting time fly. Highly recommended - and please add more from this professor!
Date published: 2009-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nothing short of perfect I found this course truly amazing. The lecturing was flawless... quite an achievement in itself, but I was even more impressed with the overall structure of a course covering such a dizzying range of topics. The series of lectures lead naturally to a fascinating climax. Dr Sapolsky is a gifted teacher; I could not have been more pleased with the experience.
Date published: 2009-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent multi-disciplinary integration This courses is an excellent overview of multiple topics such as genetics, neurosciences, pharmacology, pathology, physiology, animal behavior, human psychology, sociology, anthropology, and population health. I have used Dr. Sapolsky's framework as well as readings and podcasts to help my students begin to think across topics and specialties. I have used the framework Dr. Sapolsky's presents in this course and elsewhere to help inspire medical students about the value of socio-cultural forces and public/population health approaches. His scientific credibility and rollicking fun sessions help very much in these efforts at conversion.He is gifted at keeping an audience interested. He builds concepts so that learners from many fields can participate and go into depth without requiring extensive preparatory courses or knowledge of jargon. His good humor, verbal fluency, and depth of knowledge is astonishing. The anecdotes are memorable and build understanding not just facts.
Date published: 2009-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A FIVE STAR LECTURER IF YOU HAVE READ THIS FAR, YOU ARE CERTAINLY INTERESTED IN THE SUBJECT. THERE IS LITTLE MORE THAT I CAN ADD TO THE GLOWING ASSAYS, OTHER THAN TO SAY, YOU HAVE BEFORE YOU AND WITHIN YOUR GRASP – A MASTERPIECE
Date published: 2009-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Topic + Outstanding Professor = GREAT From start to finish, I was glued to the T.V. I highly recommend this in the DVD version. (It is very hard to picture what a neuron and its axon terminals look like.) Topics focus on aggression. Not so much on love, beauty and other abstract concepts (I guess that is more in the realm of philosophy anyhow). Dr. Sapolsky is a great teacher. He is down to earth and an independently minded thinker, not taking the conventional boring approaches. Dr. Sapolsky eliminates technical jargon, and doesn't use all fancy vocabulary words (In "Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd ed." I found myself looking up some words). He speaks as if he is talking to regular people; a special feature, not found in many people with a Ph.D. I was highly impressed by the professor's attire, as he did not once wear a suit. This unconventional attitude, coupled with a very relaxed environment makes the learning far more enjoyable. One note: Dr. Sapolsky talks in a bit of a monotone. But have no fear, it is hardly noticeable after you become engrossed in the remarkable ideas he wonderfully presents. Before the start and end of EVERY lecture, Dr. Sapolsky reviews the material, and explains how he will proceed. He will also refer back to ideas in previous lectures and will briefly remind his audience what the idea is about. The professor understands that not everyone is going to remember every fact, and that many will go days between watching/listening to the lectures. I was actually smiling while watching the lectures; either from Dr. Sapolsky's many witty jokes or from the sheer ingenuity that is constantly behind all these amazing ideas. I never realized how much I loved neuroscience and the study of behavior. Or maybe it's just the professor. Either way, I highly recommend this to anyone who wants an overview of neurobiology and behavior, or to someone who just is in the mood to enjoy themselves. Lastly, Dr. Sapolsky teaches something invaluable: how to think. He shows how many scientists do not approach this discipline correctly; they think, (as Dr. Sapolsky calls) in "categorical buckets". So even if you are averse to the course topic, it is worth it just from that standpoint.
Date published: 2009-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course on the biology of aggression This is a wonderful course, looking at human behavior from a variety of disciplines (neurobiology, environment, evolution, even game theory) and repeatedly making the point that no one aspect is sufficient to explain human behavior: it's how they all interact. Very comprehensive, and explains very clearly how environmental and other factors can change the neurobiology of the individual (and thereby, behavior). Sapolsky is an excellent lecturer. I had only an audio version of the course, but the figures in the booklet and Sapolsky's explanations were enough to carry me through. I never lost interest in the course. If you think neurobiology is too heavy a subject, think again: you'll be surprised at how easy Sapolsky makes subject. Professor Sapolsky chose to focus on aggression (as well as its converse, how things like cooperation develop), and that really should have been part of the course title. Not that I'm complaining -- it's a very interesting and important subject -- though I did miss some of the case studies covered in the earlier, 1st edition of this course, which was more general in its scope.
Date published: 2009-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant -one of the best! Prof Sapolski is a brilliant teacher and lecturer. His explanations, diagrams and examples are clear, well presented, relevant and illuminating. The final "putting all the peices together" to explain agression was brilliant. He is one of the best explainers of detail i've ever listened to. Please do another series of delving into greater detail on: love, depression, anxiety, sress, ... Prof Sapolski!
Date published: 2009-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely marvelous course This is the best course of all the ones I've listened to. I had previously read and enjoyed one of his books, but this course was even better. His voice and presentation is extremely clear. I could listen to him all day.
Date published: 2009-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Course: Great Professor I have to start by praising Dr. Sapolsky. I think he could talk, fluidly, for 30 minutes without a pause, without blundering or stammering, with no useless "filler", and while speaking almost entirely off the top of his head. He surely knows the topic inside and out. His occassional dry, witty humor cracked me up. (The only possible problem I had with his presentation is that IF someone without a sense of humor doesn't realize that a given joke was just that, they may think that something he jokingly said is true.) I like the idea of looking at behavior not just from a neurobiology view, or just from an environmental stimulus view, or from any other single view: he divides it into 9 different levels that cover a very broad range. As the course guide for lecture 1 says, "The general strategy of this course is to see how behavior can be understood in the context of everything from milliseconds of brain activity to millions of years of evolution". He covers all 9 with lots more: lots of ground is covered, very well.
Date published: 2009-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Robert Sapolsky is simply brilliant!!! Dr. Sapolsky's ability to translate complex concepts in ways that even you can understand will surely makes this course one of your top favorites!
Date published: 2009-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating. One of the best, if not THE best If you agree that "the proper study of mankind is man", I can think of no better way to delve into science's approach to the study than through Robert Sapolsky's course. Professor Sapolsky is clear in his presentation, chooses fascinating examples of behavior, is aware of the level of detail that the lay person is probably going to need on a first pass through the subject, and is hands down the wittiest of the TC professors. If any course deserves the over used cliche "life changing", I think this one comes nearest. You may already be acquainted with Prof. Sapolsky from the recent National Geographic show, aired on PBS, on Stress, or perhaps from his books. All are fascinating and delvivered with his wry, tongue in cheek humor.
Date published: 2009-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding - One of Favourites I am using TTC courses to build and expand my world-view across a wide variety of disciplines. If you are on a similar mission, I highly recommend this course. - the content is fascinating: the 'mechanics' of human behaviour; the scope is huge, from the working of single neurons up to macro behaviours e.g. violence - Sapolsky is great teacher: methodical, connecting, review, humour Happy Learning!
Date published: 2009-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Neuroscience for Dummies This is a good overview of neuroscience for the layman. Prof. Sapolsky teaches the course just like it was an overview course in college, being careful to reiterate lessons taught in previous lectures. Even though I was a science major in college and grad school, I found the material to be interesting and, in some cases, suprisingly informative. I have to confess.......I downgraded the product rating for Professor Presentation down to 3 stars because Sapolsky's even tone and measured words put me to sleep every time. I felt like I was sitting in a room with a psychologist swinging a watch saying..."you eyes are getting heavy..." Not my wife, though. She loved all of it
Date published: 2009-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting I found this be an excellent course which does a very good job at introducing basic neuroscience to the layman while putting enough detail to make it interesting for those educated in similar fields. I have an MA in clinical psychology and have had a few courses in physiological psychology but at the time didn’t find them that interesting. In contrast to my earlier experiences, I found Dr Sapolsy's presentation well organized and entertaining. His dry humor really worked for me and he seemed to make somewhat dry topics for accessible. Id recommend this course to anyone interested in human behavior and the contributions the environment, genes, and evolution play in its development.
Date published: 2009-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mind expanding I thought the Professor did a great job of discussing the many functions of biology and environment and the impact on how people act and react to different stimuli. I think it gives loads of interesting information, but I am still processing what it means to me and how it can positively change my perspective on life. Well worth the time to listen. The last biology class I took was as a Sr. in High School many years ago, and felt I could fairly easily follow the content of the course. I was thoroughly impressed with Sapolsky and his presentation style. He was very fluid with virtually no verbal pauses or miscues.
Date published: 2009-02-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Bipolar presentation Professor Sapolsky bravely enters an area where most are likely to get burned. His biochemistry is good and he has a number of wonderful insights into the complexities of brain and hormonal integration. His caution that genes are not the answer to human behavior is exceptionally well presented. The prenatal environment section is very worthwhile. The section on ethology was entertaining, though attacking Marlin Perkins seems silly. Sapolsky then proceeds from science to disenfranchise prior social theory while promoting his own speculations. He talks about information proteins fitting into receptors and how many circuits inhibit or promote the expression of each protein while they swim in a chaotic 3 dimensional environment. Yet he concludes that by accidental alteration of a single protein transmitter [without alteration of its receptor or the inhibitory/excitatory] that a new animal might be formed. Nonsense. It would be like saying that you could bend the bumper of a VW and a somehow end up with a Porsche. None of us would fall for the mechanistic automobile trick. Yet that would be far easier than violating the orders of magnitude more tightly controlled complexity parameters of species generation. You can’t just change one thing in a living system and expect non-linear biochemical mathematics to agree with you. 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. Sapolsky ends the course properly by paraphrasing Haldane: “…life is stranger than we can imagine”. He partially saves himself with such open-ended conclusions.
Date published: 2009-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great in Conjunction with other TC Courses Prof Sapolsky is a real trip. I had heard him before on public radio but when I put on the DVD for this course was I in for a surprise. He probably grew up the same time as I did but he was able to maintain more continuity with his youth than I have been able to. I am making this comment as a compliment to him. This course provides a good basic understanding of neurons and neurotransmitters and how they affect behavior. He then expands from these basic building blocks to other issues. Everyone should gain some valuable insights into an important area of study. The Teaching Company also has a course on understanding the brain and another on philosophy of mind. I would recommend all of them as a set and all in DVD. They will complement and reinforce each other in dealing with a complicated subject.
Date published: 2009-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Uniquely valuable content from a gifted mind I would recommend this course unconditionally to everybody because the material is so important to both our personal well-being and also to the survival of the world at large. Sapolsky is a fabulous lecturer, but the real achievement is the creation of the course's content. The course presents the most contemporary research and perspectives on the biological basis for human behavior from multiple scientific domains -- neurology, genetics, evolution, and behavioral psychology among them. Sapolsky pulls it all together beautifully into a picture that you don't need any prior scientific knowledge to comprehend. I put Sapolsky in the same category as the Teaching Company's Daniel Robinson as a wide-ranging generalist that brings much greater meaning to any single domain of thought.
Date published: 2009-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant I studied biological psychology a few years, but never felt that I had a good understanding of the subject. All has changed, now I have listened to these lectures - I understand so much more. Worth every penny!
Date published: 2009-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Laugh Out Loud Delivery Robert Sampolsky is in a class by himself: educated, articulate, and an absolute hoot to listen to. He makes science fun -- and I was an English major. The course material was fascinating, and it caused me to really rethink how much we are influenced by our biology. Recommended for anyone of the human race. I very much look forward to any new courses he may have through the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2009-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing insights into who we are! When I first bought this course I was extremely interested in what Dr. Sapolsky had to say and I was not disappointed! He covered every detail while at the same time making it easy to understand! This course is full of extremely interesting knowledge about what makes us who we are!
Date published: 2009-01-03
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