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
    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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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 Incredibly well presented I'm an old guy and haven't taken a formal class in years. Dr. Sapolsky takes an extremely complex subject and makes it both understandable and really enjoyable with his great knowledge, sense of humor and presentation skills. I'd love to take a live course with him and have the ability to ask questions.
Date published: 2018-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best Courses I've Ever Taken! I've studied some 30 Great Courses, and this is one of the Top Five! The professor is extremely knowledgeable about various issues in behavioral science. The course discusses, at some length, the nervous system, brain evolution, behavioral genetics, the naturalistic study of biology, and laboratory experiments, in order to give the learner a wide background in behavioral science. Then, he puts all of these elements together, to discuss the biology of human aggression! I listened to this course as I commuted, in traffic. The instructor was so clear in his explanations, that I understood all the things he discussed, even with my mind on the road, and without seeing most of the diagrams until later! Professor Sapolsky's voice is easy to listen to. He adds humor and interesting anecdotes as he speaks. I would recommend the CD version to anyone who enjoys the topics of: psychology, behavior, aggression, genetics, human vs. animal comparison and contrast, scientific studies of behavior, evolution, and general science! This class is a winner!
Date published: 2017-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview of a complex landscape Excellent overview of a complex landscape. The one concern I have is that on some topics, the professor reported personal conclusions or speculations as if they were based on evidence, but he did not cite any such data. This is expected in a complex and controversial area such as behavior, but I think it's important that personal conclusions/biases be identified and described as such in serious academic settings such as this course, lest people confuse it with evidence-based data.
Date published: 2017-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favorite Great Course This was the second course I purchased from The Great Courses (The Teaching Company), eleven years ago. I have listened to dozens of exceptional courses since then, but this one remains my favorite.
Date published: 2017-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The complex made (almost) simple Having bought 4 different courses at the same time a few weeks ago, I am only half way through this series. So far it is excellent. The professor's presentation style is exceptional. He is well-spoken, no annoying tics, and he has just the right amount of humor to keep the topic absorbing and the audience engaged. I like his approach to the topic which begins with the single cell, goes on to tow cells and their connections, then on to systems and regions. His ability to explain complex material in straightforward language is remarkable. I have a strong background in biology and thus a basic understanding of neuroanatomy so I am fine with the audio version. I can imagine that I might need the video if I did not have that background.
Date published: 2017-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was one of my very favorites Wildly interesting course, I enjoyed it tremendously!
Date published: 2017-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course with simple explanations, I know nothing about neuro-science but was very intrigued by the lectures especially the anatomy and biology of how the brain works and how synapses play a role in communicating messages across all organs via neuro-transmitters and hormones stemming from ions in the brain and the body as well as the endocrine system as well as the impact of the environment ! I would like to see a follow up course because it seems there are much more to the endocrine system the brain and how neurotransmitters communicate, I do not have a PhD to lose so I am just going to say it, I think the body as a whole and all its organs send messages either in the form of neuro-transmitters or hormones more important ions transpose-mutate(excuse my language) to send a particular message ! to an organ to perform an exact function, and I am very curios as to how this works! Now that would make a great subject matter to explore, and please make available on great courses!
Date published: 2017-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from audio only not so good, repeats earlier course This is an update of the 1st edition, and much of the course is the same. He spends almost half the course on the anatomy of the brain, which some people will not be that all interested in. Throughout the course, and especially in this section, he refers to illustrations; with the audio download, it is hard to follow his explanations. He dismisses Richard Dawkins and his book, The Selfish Gene, maybe due to professional jealousy of someone who has achieved much greater academic and popular success. He devotes almost an entire lecture to "the prisoner's dilemma" and other game theory, but never describes how the actual prisoner's dilemma game works. I know the game, but someone who doesn't would be lost. This is a course on the human brain, but there is not a single lecture on cognitive ability (intelligence or IQ). Instead, he devotes several lectures to aggression. I wonder if this is not a liberal professor being sure to remain politically correct and not stray into an area that might offend some group.
Date published: 2017-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Neuroscience explained well Dr Sapolsky is an excellent explainer of complicated material He makes it very clear by connecting complicated concepts to common experience. This connection to real experience is what keeps him interesting.
Date published: 2016-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good overview Prof. Sapolsky does an excellent job overviewing basic neurobiology, although I would have liked more information on Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, and Chlorine channels. He also does a very good job of going over the basics of the limbic system, ANS, and hormone regulation. He uses anecdotal information from real life to highlight how the brain, evolution, behaviorism, genetics, and ethology relate to human behaviors. At the end of the course, he spends the last few lectures on aggression and how the information from the rest of the course relate to the behavior of aggression. The professor is a fan of ethology, but behaviorism, not so much. This lecture series is definitely one to watch.
Date published: 2016-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Biology and Human Behavior: Robert Sapolsky Dr Sapolsky's presentation is most fascinating! His lectures held me to my seat and I couldn't stop watching lecture after lecture. He is certainly an exceptional teacher. His style of presentation is refreshingly amazing. It seems that it would be a much more peaceful, fun and wise world if we all could be aware what Dr Sapolsky teaches about the biology, evolution of behavior, and causes of aggression. T he course is rather old, 2005, yet the information becomes very current when we look at the world around us and inside us. Thanks so much Dr Sapolsky for sharing your 'gift' with me. I am now looking to see what else you have published for me to learn from you...Harry
Date published: 2016-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Easy to Understand I somehow managed to get out of high school and college without biology, and I wanted a course that would be interesting to me as a life coach. This was a great introduction to The Great Courses as I amazingly understood what was taught, without the pressure of taking a test. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A thought provoking course. I am a psychiatric nurse practitioner and was familiar with many of the concepts that Dr. Sopolosky presented. I was intrigued by how he linked complex biological concepts together with environmental factors and psychological constructs to create a deeper understanding of the origins of aggression. I enjoyed and appreciated his sometimes subtle humor and occasional sarcasm he injected into his lectures. This course will definitely improve my practice.
Date published: 2016-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Our Behavior Explained This course is best for people who have some biological science background including vocabulary knowledge in anatomy, physiology and genetics. Once you get used to the unusual appearance of the professor, you'll realize he is very deserving of the teaching honors he has received. He is the first teacher I've watched in Great Courses who doesn't simply read from a teleprompter and perform choreographed mannerisms. He is enthusiastic about his subject as well as knowledgeable. He has the important ability to take an incredibly complicated technical subject and simplify it so students can understand. His use of real-life examples and his hilarious dry wit round out a most enjoyable and informative learning experience. No wonder he's at Stanford!
Date published: 2016-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Making sense of complex yet essential ideas You may have heard the phrase "The human brain is the most complex object in the known universe". This course may help you appreciate this complexity. The course begins by discussing neurons, the basic cells of the nervous system. In my opinion this is a great introduction to neurons, what they do and how they work. I'm a student of human nature and neurons are often mentioned in psychology and neuroscience courses and after this introduction, you can easily follow what is said in other courses. In each lecture, Dr Sopalsky introduces new concepts and builds on the previous lectures. I appreciated the depth in which the topics were discussed. Despite the complexity of the subject, Dr Sopalsky discusses some practical applications and examples which are always fascinating. Another thing I appreciated about Dr Sopalsky is his calm and relaxed demeanour. The rhythm was just right, especially not too fast. I'm looking forward to watching his other courses!
Date published: 2016-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Making Important Concepts Understandable & Amusing I purchased this course not because I had much of a scientific background but because I think Prof. Sapolsky is an excellent teacher. He takes complex scientific theories and cuts through the maze. It turns out that this course would fit those with a technical background along with folks like me who invested time and energy in the humanities and social sciences instead. Prof. Sapolsky does this with helpful and funny anecdotes that make one hungry for the next lecture. I had previously watched Stress and Your Body and loved it which is the reason I purchased Biology and Human Behavior. While this latter course does involve more science, it is, nevertheless, very user friendly and well worth the effort. I have no hesitation recommending this regardless of scientific background.
Date published: 2015-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! This is definitely one of my favorite courses! Very informative and engaging. I liked the systematic way Dr. Sapolsky went through all the factors that influence behavior, and then went through them again as they influence aggression. The professor talks fast and doesn't seem to need the notes he has on the podium, but rather than distracting me, it made me pay close attention. His dry sense of humor had me laughing out loud in almost every lecture. A delight. I'm hoping he will do another course for the Great Courses!
Date published: 2015-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Neurology: What a Difference Maker There are many factors that make humans different from other species and from each other. These factors include evolution, genetics, nurturing/development, environment, etc. Dr. Sapolsky addresses the effects these factors cause on human differences in personality, learning and behavior. Dr. Sapolsky's lecture style is quite different than the typical TGC professor. He does not use a teleprompter and rarely looks at his notes, speaking spontaneously from memory. He walks across the front of the room often looking to the side, only to return to direct eye contact when making a point. Both his speech and his gestures run the gamut from pensive to passionately emphatic as needed to fit the content and emphasis of his thesis. He moves at a spirited pace often interjecting unique examples and using subtle humor which ranges from the "chuckle" variety to downright hilarious. Spoiler Alert: My favorite bit of humor was: "When it comes to relationships, humans are not entirely monogamous and they're not exactly polygamous. I guess that's a good thing, otherwise we wouldn't have 90% of the literature we have." Bottom line: Once you get used to his style, he is a very effective presenter. The course is highly organized. Neurobiology and behavior is addressed (sequentially) at the cellular level, the systems level, the endocrinology level, the Evolution of behavior, the molecular biology and genetics level, and the ethological context. The last part of the course covers one of Dr. Sapolsky's areas of international repute; Behavioral Neurobiology and Aggression. In each lecture, Dr. Sapolsky gives a very straightforward and descriptive picture of the basic concepts (e.g how neurons interact) while injecting some interesting information from the latest research in the field (ala 2005 when the course was produced).. The production quality is reflective of the age of the course. The set is the old "bricks in window" TGC set. Dr. Sapolsky uses an opaque projector (haven't seen one of these in ages) to flip his slides, though what shows on the video screen looks to be computer generated. The graphical drawings are rather basic and with the exception of portrait photos of some researchers, represent the total graphical content of the course. However, a more high tech production and set might not work well with Dr. Sapolky's presentation style, which is effective as is. The accompanying course guidebook is quite good. The lecture summaries include the key points though they miss much of the anecdotal insight that Dr. Sapolsky provides as well as missing his humor. An annotated bibliography with internet resources is included. The glossary and biographic notes are also helpful. I definitely recommend this course. This is the second course I have taken from Dr. Sapolsky and he is one of my favorite TGC professors. If you are planning on taking this course as well as his course "Stress and Your Body", you might want to take this one first. There is some redundancy between the two but this course covers some basics of neurology that might help understand the other course better.
Date published: 2015-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rich and Enjoyable Throughout I've enjoyed this so much I intend to listen to it all again, soon. The individual sections together form a very satisfying big picture that I hope to better commit to memory. Even so, every chapter is a good chunk, enjoyably challenging in itself. The professor's delivery is organized, clear, quick, and seamlessly punctuated with sense of humor that indicates he knows his audience -- people with some biological knowledge, capable of paying close attention, and recognizing a joke without any underscore. After taking a dozen audio courses or more, with just a few disappointments, this is among the very very best. I'd recommend it without hesitation to anyone who finds the chapter titles interesting.
Date published: 2015-04-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wish it Had Been Longer Loved Professor Sapolsky and his fantastic sense of humor but wish the series had been spread out to 36 lectures. Just when it got really interesting, the lectures seemed to get truncated, and I was having a hard time following the links at the same time as I was becoming increasingly intrigued by the information. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the course and recommend it. I am particularly grateful for his resolving of the nature vs. nurture dilemma. Totally changed my outlook.
Date published: 2014-12-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course with top-knotch professor I'm a psychology doctoral student and have been using The Great Courses as a resource to bolster my learning. I've watched over a dozen courses, and find Dr. Sapolsky to be the most entertaining professor here. This is not to diminish his intelligence, he is arguably the most knowledgeable person here (at least in the realm of neurobiology and pretty much everything related to it). I absolutely love this guy. Having said that, this isn’t my favorite of his courses (his Stress course is a must see!). It's a very good course, however I found it a bit abstract at times. Perhaps because I prefer more specific and targeted material. Sure neuroethology was interesting, but I wasn't sure what to take away from it. Overall, however, I highly recommend anything Dr Sapolsky puts forth.
Date published: 2014-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spectacular Course! What a remarkable course presented by a phenomenal professor! The style and substance of this course was outright addictive. Professor Sapolsky is one of a kind. From the beginning of each lecture till it's end- it's petal to the metal- full throttle genius presented without a teleprompter. I found myself watching 4 lectures in a row having to force myself to stop- it's really that enjoyable! Professor Sapolsky dismisses all black and white approaches to explaing human behavior and focuses on the varying shades of grey in splendid detail. He walks you backwards from the behavior to the neurobiology, environment, hormones, childhood development, genetic makeup, and all the way back to evolutionary pressures that shaped our species. The course is weighted toward the neuroscientific angle on behavior as apposed to the psychological. You are not pressured into memorizing every single part of the brain and nervous system- instead you are guided through the key correlations between areas like the Limbic system, Cortex, Hypothalamus, and Amygdala. There is also ample emphasis on how neurons communicate with each other, the neuro-nets they form, and the neurotransmitters role in the process. The secong half of the course is a blast! Who isn't curious about behavior and genetics? It will be drummed into your head after many lectures that you simply can't blame everything on your genes. This becomes evident as the professor delves into the specific behavior of aggression. Lastly- lectures 23 and 24 are so chock-full of goodies that you should watch them twice.
Date published: 2014-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and engaging course. Professor Sapolsky delivers an excellent study of human nature and he presents the topic in a way which is really easy to understand. I enjoyed his lecture speaking style and he held my attention through the entire course. The course itself covers a range of topics relating to how the brain/body system works as a whole to shape the various parts that make up human nature. He explains the various parts of the brain, their functions and how hormones exercise influence in the brain and body. He also breaks down the causative effects of hormones and explains the positive and negative interactions they produce. His explanations of human moods, feelings and habits left me with a greater understanding of myself and my fellow man. A great course overall for anyone interested in why people behave the way they do.
Date published: 2013-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent for Intro Level and Beyond I bought this course because I'm a big fan of Sapolsky's work in stress. He's a wonderful author and speaker. I think that his sense of humor and his story telling ability make complex topics approachable for beginners, but can maintain interest for those beyond the introductory materials. This is a great course for someone getting started in neuroscience or psychology. The lectures are outlined in a format that I really appreciate - they go from narrow (neuron) to broad (evolutionary drives). There is ample coverage of essential information like how things work and vocabulary terms, and though this material can be dry this course is not through the use of fascinating examples, diagrams, and stories. I am a neuro-nerd and have reviewed a lot of materials on the subject, I very highly recommend this course as it is one of my favorites.
Date published: 2013-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well prepared and presented The way of preparation and presentation was wonderful for this lengthy and challenging subject. Prof. Sapolsky jumped, logically, between different subjects, such as: cell biology, neurophysiology, endocrinology, evolution, ethology, behavior science, and genetics; in a way that was comprehensive and detailed, yet accessible to average listeners. I liked so much his teaching techniques: the summarization, the brief repetition, and the connection between the subjects in different lectures. Although monotonous when listened to in the first few lectures, but I got used to it as lectures went by, and became addicted to his sarcasm and subtle sense of humor. The only thing that I didn't like about the course (and made me give it 4 for presentation and content, instead of 5) was the way Prof. Sapolsky dealt with some of the figures and ideas in the field, which made me feel he is enforcing his personal ideas and beliefs on us. For example, the repeated negative remarks about Skinner & Lorenz, which sounded a little-bit unscientific and inappropriate to me. Nevertheless, an outstanding course that I highly recommend to others.
Date published: 2013-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A superior presentation of a great lecturer I had no burning desire to study neurobiology, but a friend urged me to check out Professor Sapolsky's lectures, and I immediately understood why. He is the kind of professor you adored in college -- a leader in his field, clearly passionate about the subject matter, and supremely capable of transmitting that enthusiasm to his audience in a way that is accessible, engaging, and entertaining. It isn't hard to find sample lectures by Sapolsky in other places around the Internet, but once again The Great Courses provides the most high quality, coherent, comprehensive, and easy to digest versions. The sub-title sums it up: The Neurological Origins of Individuality are covered from every angle, starting with a refresher on basic brain neurology and moving on to cover evolutionary and environmental factors that make up who we are. 24 lectures fly by, in part because the material is so dense, but mostly because Professor Sapolsky is so completely engaging, and The Great Courses' intimate style of production makes it feel like he's speaking directly to you.
Date published: 2012-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I couldn't stop listening to this excellent presentation! great content; great presentation.
Date published: 2012-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best course I have taken from Great Course This course is GREAT. I did it over audio CD, so not sure if it would have been even better with the visuals, but I found it incredibly engaging. I have a bit of a man-crush on Prof. Sapolsky, he is extremely intelligent, concise, thoughtful, and unexpectedly FUNNY! He makes the content very accessible, summarizing decades worth of scientific gobbledygook into the key points and implications. He does a wonderful job of making the content relevant and relate-able without dumbing it down or abstracting it too much. The course structure is very logical and cumulative, starting with single neuron processes, going to neural networks, areas of the brain, and finally to whole organism behaviors. This building / self referential process is extremely helpful for linear thinkers like myself. At the beginning of each lecture, the Prof. provides a brief recap of the ground that was covered in the previous lecture, which is useful if you are not listening to the series on a continuous / daily basis. The only potential negative about this course is the Prof's voice is fairly soft and monotone, but in my opinion this "low audible baseline" actually helps highlight the points when he DOES add vocal emphasis, and increases the impact of his hilarious one-liners. The "big" questions raised by this course about the basis of our behavior, the nature of consciousness, and the existence of free will are incredibly provocative and will change the way that you think about yourself and see the world. I can't think of any better accolade to give a learning experience than that.
Date published: 2012-08-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good but with significant reservations As reflected by the other reviewers, this is in many ways a good, interesting course. The professor is sort of playful in his lecturing, and is pleasant to listen to. It significantly changed the way I think about human behavior. However, there were several ways in which this course was frustrating. I'll focus on those in this review: => First, the most significant frustration. There are several times in which he intentionally lectures on things that we now know to be false. But he lectures on them as if they were *true*. He frames those lectures (beginning and end) with "this is a bunch of lies." But, upon thinking about it afterwards, I was confused. => The course feels like an ongoing cliffhanger because of the above. I wanted to say to the lecturer, "Just tell us clearly what your point is and lecture about it." This course talks quite a bit about stress and, ironically, listening to this course is stressful because of this "what is he trying to tell us" tension. => This course would have benefitted from examples, anecdotes, stories to keep it lively and interesting. Human behavior must have loads of interesting examples that just didn't appear. =>At times, the lectures did not keep my attention. The several lectures on the cellular structure of the brain that were slow. On one level, this was probably necessary ground to cover. But one could easily start a few lectures in and be just fine. => The lectures cover a lot of things most die hard TGC customers will have already learned about. Evolution, game theory, DNA making proteins, the brain's cellular structure. Again, it was frustrating and I had a hard time paying attention. Conclusion: This course is for patient adults who really want to learn the details of human behavior. I don't recommend getting this course on a whim or for a person under the age of 20.
Date published: 2012-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Science of Human Behavior Professor Sapolsky cogently explains the complexity of human behavior through varied scientific disciplines on brain function and how it is expressed through individual behavior. Great comprehensible insights given by a brilliant researcher who balances science with human existence.
Date published: 2012-05-13
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