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Learn the key ideas of the book by Robert M. Sapolsky


The relationship between biology and human behaviour

Behave takes us on an interesting journey into human biology by showing us how human behaviour derives from a certain set of factors. Sapolsky reconstructs them with meticulous precision, from neurons to hormones, from the nervous system to the endocrine system, to the environment in which we live. Human behaviour is, in fact, not an absolute science, but a complex system, one which can be explained only by taking into account all the variables, both internal, and external to the body. It is these variables that determine any good or bad, right or wrong behaviour. Seeking an explanation for any behaviour therefore requires an interdisciplinary analysis, as the author of Behave, Robert Sapolsky, expertly illustrates.

Read in 15 min.
Listen in 18 min.

The science behind human behaviour

When we think about a certain behaviour, we tend to associate it with a reaction to a certain triggering event. After all, it is a shared principle, a provocation is followed by an action.

In fact, this explanation, although plausible, is not exhaustive. On the contrary, it only partially describes the phenomenon.

Behaviour is studied through various disciplines, and each one provides its own interpretation, this means that each discipline observes specific aspects of the same behaviour and assigns it with a different meaning. Different disciplines therefore produce different answers. The subject is quite complex, but it is an interesting one to delve into, to try and understand how much of human behaviour derives from a set of neurological, hormonal, environmental factors that all work together to produce a given action.

One of the behaviours that Robert Sapolsky tries to explain in his - almost encyclopaedic - book is violence. When we think of violence, our immediate reaction makes us reject the idea of any kind of uncontrolled action, without realising that there are two forms of violence, the gratuitous, bad, nefarious violence, and an almost  benevolent aggression, acting as a stimulus to violence.

It is no coincidence that sports teams use the names of aggressive animals, see Lions, Tigers and Bears. Aggression in itself is not to be condemned.

Violence is part of human nature, understanding it, down to its roots, can be difficult, but by closely examining our biology, we can nevertheless make a valid attempt.

Robert Sapolsky tries to reconstruct the whole process. Once an action has been carried out, he investigates what has happened, from a biological point of view, a second before that action, then a minute before, and hours before ... going as far as considering events of days, and even months before.

In doing so, he takes us on an in-depth journey into the complexity of human kind.


The key ideas of "Behave"

The science behind human behaviour
Man is a complex biological system made up of a brain, a nervous system and hormones
The development of the brain during adolescence and so-called adversity
The issue of bullying as an example of effective behavioural conditioning
Culture and context are important elements which affect how the human mind develops and therefore human behaviour
Respect for hierarchy as a need to obey influences behaviour
The problem of free will addresses the issue of freedom and conditioning
Take-home message
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