Dopamine Jackpot! Robert Sapolsky on the Science of Pleasure

Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biology at Stanford University, famously focuses his research on stress above all else. (Don’t miss his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.) The video above features Sapolsky presenting the Pritzker Lecture at the California Academy of Sciences on February 15, 2011. The full lecture can be seen on Fora TV. In this excerpt, Sapolsky amusingly tells the audience how monkeys and humans commonly generate the highest levels of dopamine when pleasure is anticipated, not when pleasure is actually experienced. But humans, as opposed to monkeys, can “keep those dopamine levels up for decades and decades waiting for the reward.” And for some, Sapolsky adds, that perceived reward lies beyond this life – in the afterlife. (Sapolsky was raised in an orthodox Jewish family, but is an atheist now.) The Stanford professor talks about similar issues (what separates us from primates) in another captivating talk, “What makes us human?

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.


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  1. Dara says . . . | March 9, 2011 / 11:01 am

    You can also find this talk on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWZAL64E0DI&feature=related
    Advantage: you can download the talk and watch it offline or convert to mp3 for listening on an mp3 player.

  2. Janis Blair says . . . | December 17, 2014 / 11:23 am

    I first was exposed to the work of Dr. Sapolsky in coursework on disc through an ad in Scientific American. He covers material and does not put you to sleep with roteness. He is an excellent teacher.

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