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The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  517 ratings  ·  84 reviews
A Revolution in the Science of Good and Evil

Why do some people give freely while others are cold hearted?

Why do some people cheat and steal while others you can trust with your life?

Why are some husbands more faithful than others and why do women tend to be more generous than men?

Could they key to moral behaviour lie with a single molecule?

From the bucolic English countrys
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 10th 2012 by Dutton (first published May 1st 2012)
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Brian Clegg
May 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
You wait years for a book on empathy and two come out within days. But the contrast with Simon Baron-Cohen's book could not be greater. The Moral Molecule is popular science as rumbustious personal story telling - it is a highly enjoyable exploration of Paul Zak's journey from economist to neurobiologist and of his almost obsessive interest in the molecule oxytocin and its influence on trust and empathy - in effect on human goodness.

Although oxytocin is the star, this is a tale of two molecules,
Apr 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
This was one of the worst psychology books I've ever read (though I have not read many). I had a hard time taking Zak seriously. He writes in an almost too casual way, and his experiments seem faulty. Instead of doing most of his research in contained environments with multiple subjects, he does most of it on himself at random times. It seems as though he already carries a lot of experimenter’s bias because he writes as though he is trying to prove current stereotypes about the sexes rather than ...more
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
It feels like it's been forever since I posted a book review... I have been so busy with other things and when I do get a break my focus has been on stuff besides reading. :(

Anyway, this book was nothing spectacular. I learned something, which is why it got the stars it did. Apparently this guy writes for Psychology Today, which is a publication that I have no great respect for. If I'd known that when I picked it up at the library, I probably wouldn't have bothered. Alas it sounded interesting.

Gary Schechner
Oct 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Interesting read and while i enjoyed the science, I am a bit suspect of the methodology. However, I do believe in the power of a hug as Zak suggests.
Aug 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the multidisciplinary applications of neuroscience
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: receipt of this book as a gift
Paul Zak is an unusual combination: Economist and neuroscientist. His obsessive investigations would crossover into intrusiveness were he not so infectiously enthusiastic. He humorously refers to his studies as vampire economics. The opening chapter finds him at a wedding, drawing blood samples from the wedding party in order to quantify their increased oxytocin level (oxytocin being the “moral molecule” of the title). Does it deserve the epithet, or is this merely excessive “hype”?

The scientifi
Jul 06, 2013 rated it liked it
The power of hugs!

Well, that’s the short version, anyway. In fact, I got to meet Paul Zak at a panel, and the first thing he did was give me a hug. So, the man definitely walks his talk.

This is another entry in the recently hot pop-neuroscience genre of nonfiction. Despite the backlash to neuroscience and the backlash to the backlash, etc., I’ve always enjoyed these books for what they offer: revelations of sometimes rigorous, sometimes sloppy, and always fascinating work on how the brain actual
Andrew Smith
Oct 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
You sort of get the idea pretty quickly with this one, but the book's thesis - that human beings are predisposed to empathy and social behaviour - is so profound that the evidence is well worth hearing. Written in an easy, chatty style, I would give is three and a half stars as a read in itself, but six in terms of its importance. It will change the way you think about yourself and other people, and affect your own behaviour on a day to day basis. ...more
Lindsay Nixon
Apr 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book has been so fascinating, covering far more than I expected and it challenged several lifelong beliefs I had. For example, I believed we would have no morality without religion--not that you have to be religious to be moral, but that morality was conceptualized by religion. That is simply not the case. Our DNA is programed for us to act in ways we socially define as "moral" because that is required for species survival. The beginning part about Oxycetocin was also very interesting. Zak ...more
Nelson Zagalo
Very good storytelling science. Paul Zak uses a coloquial approach to talk about his neurosciences discoveries, making it very easy for non specialist to grasp meanings and real implications of what has been discovered. Zak knows his works has been highly promoted by the media, thus in this book he does a very good work at debunking misconceptions about the easy solutions presented by the simplified media messages.

Oxytocin is the molecule Zak talks about. Zak argues, with empirical evidence, tha
Nov 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
This is an excellent book. It is easy to read and understand. It helps to understand the research that Dr. Paul Zak has done on Oxytocin, a chemical that is in our blood and affects our behavior. He demonstrates how a surge in this chemical affects how we trust others. He states that something as simple as a hug increases ones feeling of happiness, love, and trust. It not only increases the trust between individuals, but can increase trust between different "tribes" and different nations.

Makes m
Fu Sheng Wilson Wong
He intended to draw a correlation between trust, happiness and morality; citing all could be increased with a single hormone - oxytocin. It is highly doubtful though that a moral person can be a happy person, as a psychopath who gets a kick (happiness) from killing but is certainly not moral in the eyes of the society. A person who thinks twice about helping a stranger (trust) is not necessarily a bad person (immoral), he just wants to ensure the safety of himself as well taking measures from be ...more
Jun 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
The most interesting and easiest to follow section of the book was the last chapter. Most of the earlier sections are written like a brain dump - randomly ordered details printed in the order in which they occurred to the author, making the reading tedious at best.
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Probably the most interesting book I've read all year. The author's assertions in areas outside of his immediate expertise are sometimes painfully over-generalized and silly, but the core work is fascinating. ...more
Oct 24, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is written in a very readable way, means no medical terms to confuse you. It surrounded by 2 hormones: Oxytocin and testosterone. Oxytocin plays a very important role on human's empathy and love affection. I have learned that a father of a new born baby would have a lot more oxytocin in their blood and the testosterone would drop a lot. This would last for long as long as they keep staying with their kids.
In this book, it brought up a fun experiment that oxytocin could be used as "mag
Aug 16, 2017 rated it liked it
I want to say this book was ok because I distinctly remember enjoying parts of it but for the life of me it was just not very memorable. This may not necessarily be a reflection of the content of the book. I read it during a very busy month and primarily in bed right before going to sleep. From what I do recall, the book presented what I would describe as a pop psych style introduction to Zak's research. I did read several reviews of the book, most of which complained about the seeming lack of a ...more
Dan Pendergrass
Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Well at one point I was going to go with three stars, as it felt like he was going to tout Oxytocin as a panacea. However, eventually he got into the counterbalance with testosterone and more importantly the feedback between neurophysiology and psychosocial development that can cause different behaviors to the same stimulus. I do think the title should have been something more along the line of "The Philosophy of the Moral Molecule and Mankind's Trust based Societies". It was very eclectic and n ...more
Michael MacDonald
Essential reading for Positive Psychology

This is an excellent book that blends elements of autobiographical journey with accessible science with anthropological observations. Throughout, there are snippets of self-help as well.

Dr. Zak treats his readers as peers as he shares details of various experiments that he’s done over the years and offers the insights for consideration.

He clearly has a passion for his topic and a kindness that allows him to share his knowledge in such an understandable
Guilherme  Faria
Apr 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Zak writes more as a salesman than as a scientist, with lots of personal accounts and ideas with no rigorous foundation other than his experience and opinions. Still, his more scientific findings about the role of oxytocin (and it's antagonist, testosterone) and how it affects us is essential to the understanding that trust and cooperation can (and should) be part of our usual modus operandi. Beyond the obvious benefits to personal happiness and a better experience with our communities, Zak -
Dec 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I’ve known oxytocin as the feel-good hormone that’s released during sex and that triggers lactation. What I didn’t know was that this biological substance is linked to morality, a supposedly philosophical concept.

This Moral Molecule makes a very engaging case of the evolutionary benefits of morality and how oxytocin comes into play to make economies and, ultimately, the human species prosper.

If you enjoy an interdisciplinary approach to understanding science from angles of history, cultures, an
Michelle Fararoni
Trust the people around you to become happier

This is a great book on the effects of oxytocin in your relationships and countries. Paul explains the trust experiment he ran and how it differed from person to person based on biases, environment and other variables, in order to draw conclusions on how these play an important role not only in how we act in a society, but how we impact others and how we all impact nations, prosperity, and wealth. Great read!
I enjoyed this book much more than I expected I would. Initially, I was skeptical about how the myriad of human behaviors could be attributed to a few chemicals. But minus that, this book proposes an interesting theory and a good snap shot of evolutionary behaviors. Am happy I picked up this read.
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I knew oxytocin as the hormone associated with birth and breastfeeding, but didn't realize it plays a huge role in every-day experiences (if we make the associated choices). So fascinating, and insightful! ...more
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Some good information. Too many first person ramblings about his research.
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read it! It won't change your life but it's super interesting. ...more
Interesting .......but putting it aside to come back later to.
May 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Good introduction to oxytocin's effects on human behavior. ...more
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
Made it to almost halfway. The pseudoscience is strong with this one. An exemplar of the hyperbolic TED-era of pop science.
Jul 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very informative read! It will change the way you see the world and has the potential to influence your daily actions as well. Fascinating stuff!
Florentina Andronescu
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book made more humane. Thank you, Mr Zak!
Bob Nichols
Oct 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Zak pits two body chemicals against each other. Oxytocin brings people together by promoting good feelings and generating trust. Testosterone promotes aggression and wariness, and assertion of self-interest. It is oxytocin's "evil twin." The higher the testosterone level, the more the oxytocin response is blocked, "producing a damping effect on being caring and feeling." These two chemicals, Zak writes, dance through our social interactions "between cooperation and competition, benevolence and h ...more
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PAUL J. ZAK, PH.D. is the founding Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and Professor of Economics, Psychology, and Management at Claremont Graduate University. He was part of the team of scientists that first made the connection between oxytocin and trust—and his TED talk on the topic has received over a million views. He has appeared on CNN, Fox Business, Dr. Phil, Good Morning Amer ...more

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“Rich or poor, living in a trusting society simply makes people happier.” 2 likes
“So let Dr. Love offer you a prescription: eight hugs a day. We've shown that if you give eight hugs a day you'll be happier, and the world will be a better place because you'll be causing others' brains to release oxytocin. They, in turn, will connect better to others, treat them more generously, causing oxytocin release...yes, the virtuous cycle begins with a hug. The other thing I do when anyone comes to see me is to ask how I can make their visit with me the most valuable and fulfilling. This is part of being fully present and available, which is another lesson I've learned from the Moral Molecule.” 1 likes
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