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The Neuroscience of Fair Play: Why We (Usually) Follow the Golden Rule

The Neuroscience of Fair Play: Why We (Usually) Follow the Golden Rule

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The New York Academy of Sciences

Presented By

Presented by Science & the City


Several recent books, using anthropology, psychology and evolution, have argued that our ethical or moral life evolved from nature. Now a distinguished neuroscientist takes that proposition a critical step farther, right to the basics: brain signals.

Donald Pfaff, PhD, head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at Rockefeller University, gives us the first book to describe how ethics may be a hardwired function of the human brain.

Pfaff explains how specific brain circuits cause us to consider an action toward another as if it were going to happen to us, prompting us to treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Into this picture, he brings various brain hormones that produce or induce forms of moral behavior such as individual heroism, parental love, close friendship, and violence and aggression.

Pfaff solves the mystery of our universal ethical precepts, presenting a rock-solid hypothesis of why humans across time and geography have such similar notions of good and bad, right and wrong.

Donald W. Pfaff, PhD, is professor and head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at the Rockefeller University, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has studied the brain and behavior for more than 30 years and is known for discovering the brain-cell targets for steroid hormones and leading the studies that proved that specific chemicals acting in specific parts of the brain determine individual behavioral responses. He has served as editor, or on the editorial board, of 21 journals and is author or coauthor of 16 scientific books and more than 600 scientific articles.