Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition

Rated 5 out of 5 by from mind crush Brilliant, yet approachable and entertaining while explaining complex things simply enough for all to understand. Highly recommend also reading latest book, Behave, the biology of humans at our best and worst
Date published: 2020-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Biology and Human Behavior As a professor of over 40 years at a major university, I can appreciate the excellence of this course. This professor is knowledgeable, organized, thorough, and concise. I loved the fast pace and bringing in so many fields of study to cover this complex topic. This is one of the best courses I have taken out of over 20 of the great courses that I have watched. Kudos!
Date published: 2020-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Raving reviews totally in place I don’t have much to add to the raving reviews this course has deservedly received. I fully agree with PurpleProf’s wonderful review, and I especially want to emphasize what a pleasure it was to listen this professor’s presentation: it is clear, beautifully structured and at times - downright hilarious. I fully intend to hear all of the other courses he has produced for TGC. A fascinating and enjoyable course.
Date published: 2020-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Complex but understandable I have watched 4 of the lectures and admittedly have a background in behavioral science, but these lectures are great and I wish everyone had access to this information.
Date published: 2019-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Great materiel, really enjoyed the pace of the presentation the humor and the breadth of knowledge. Easily a top 10 of the great courses I’ve audited.
Date published: 2019-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A thorough analysis Professor Sapolsky examines human behavior form the points of view of geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, anthropologists, primatologists and others, to give a thorough explanation of why humans do what they do. He then uses the last four lectures for an analysis of aggression, integrating these different points of view. Each half hour is packed with information. Not a minute is wasted. The course is well worth the money and the time the user invests.
Date published: 2019-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course, great value! I really enjoyed this course. I listened to it at the gym and it made my workout seem to go much faster. However, this is one course where my concentration on what was being said really interfered with counting reps on the machines (or vice versa). It was a very good summary of what is known today about the way the brain influences our behavior from a biological point of view. Every single lecture was engaging. The professor made a complicated topic easy to understand. I understand computer circuits, which interestingly helped me understand some of what was being said in the audio version. It also helped that I had previously taken “The Learning Brain” and “Behavioral Economics: When Psychology and Economics Collide” which touched upon some of the topics and terms at a higher level. However, I don’t think I could ever pass a test where I had to point out things on a graphic or even spell key terms correctly. I am also sure I will have a better understanding of the details when I get around to reading the guidebook. Thus, I think the video version will be more beneficial for most people.
Date published: 2018-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation, with caveats I found Prof Sapolsky’s presentation style to be exceptionally engaging. He is enthusiastic, funny, and highly organized. He even made topics in specific lectures interesting, though I had expected to skip these lectures based only on the titles. He did an excellent job showing the complexities involved when exploring the biology of human behavior, taking into consideration a myriad of factors that may come into play. From lecture to lecture, he made a point of noting what we already covered, what we were about to cover in the current lecture, and where the future lectures were headed. This was very helpful given the volume of material that he covered. I have never taken a course about the brain, and my last course in biology was in 10th grade, approximately 50 years ago. This course was very informative and reasonably easy to understand, mostly because of the excellent presentation style. Since course reviews submitted by others were from 8 years ago, I assume that the course is at least 8 year old. Given the amount of research done in the area of biology of human behavior, I would have hoped for an updated version of the course that would reflect recent discoveries. On the negative side, when Prof Sapolsky cited specific examples of human behavior, as he did throughout the course, he then immediately proceeded to state the cause of those behaviors. He would say something like “what’s this all about?”, and then give his interpretation. Given the complexity behind human behavior which Prof Sapolsky himself communicated, It seems unlikely to me that there is only one reason for the behavior in each example cited, or that Prof Sapolsky has the unique ability to know the exact cause in each case. I believe it’s much more likely that Prof Sapolsky has theories about the causes of human behavior in the examples he cited, but he doesn’t consider the possibility of other interpretations. Also, I found it surprising that although he acknowledged the potential impact of the environment on human behavior, he never acknowledged that an individual’s thought (as opposed to physical brain activity) might influence or cause human behavior. I believe this is a significant oversight.
Date published: 2018-08-21
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Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition
Course Trailer
Biology and Behavior-An Introduction
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....

31 min
The Basic Cells of the Nervous System
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....

29 min
How Two Neurons Communicate
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....

30 min
Learning and Synaptic Plasticity
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....

31 min
The Dynamics of Interacting Neurons
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....

31 min
The Limbic System
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....

31 min
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
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....

30 min
The Regulation of Hormones by the Brain
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....

31 min
The Regulation of the Brain by Hormones
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....

30 min
The Evolution of Behavior
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....

31 min
The Evolution of Behavior-Some Examples
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....

30 min
Cooperation, Competition, and Neuroeconomics
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....

31 min
What Do Genes Do? Microevolution of Genes
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....

30 min
What Do Genes Do? Macroevolution of Genes
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....

30 min
Behavior Genetics
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....

29 min
Behavior Genetics and Prenatal Environment
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....

31 min
An Introduction to Ethology
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....

30 min
18: Neuroethology

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....

30 min
The Neurobiology of Aggression I
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....

31 min
The Neurobiology of Aggression II
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....

31 min
Hormones and Aggression
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....

31 min
Early Experience and Aggression
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....

30 min
Evolution, Aggression, and Cooperation
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....

30 min
A Summary
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....

32 min
Robert Sapolsky

We humans activate the stress-response for reasons of psychological factors, and that's simply not what the system evolved for. If you do that chronically, you're going to get sick.


Rockefeller University


Stanford University

About Robert Sapolsky

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 Primate Research operated by the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi. Dr. Sapolsky is a recipient of a MacArthur genius fellowship. His teaching awards include Stanford University's Bing Award for Teaching Excellence and an award for outstanding teaching from the Associated Students of Stanford University. Professor Sapolsky is the author of several books, including Stress, the Aging Brain and the Mechanisms of Neuron Death (MIT Press, 1992); The Trouble with Testosterone (Macmillan Library Reference, 1997); and Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: A Guide to Stress-Related Diseases and Coping (W.H. Freeman, 1995), which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. He also regularly contributes to magazines and journals such as Discover, Science, Scientific American, Harper's, and The New Yorker.

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