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Fareed speaks with Paul Zak, a professor at Claremont Graduate University and the author of The Moral Molecule about why trust and confidence are at such a low. Watch the video for the full interview.
OK, explain what you mean by that.
So human beings have this unique ability among all animals to actually rapidly form relationships with strangers. So the only way you can do that is to have something in our heads that says Fareed is safe and Bob, next to you, is not safe. So this molecule we found is produced when you observe or are the recipient of a positive social interaction.
So we began examining trust first, but more generally, these positive social behaviors we call moral behaviors.
How do you do the test? How do you figure that out?
So this is an ancient chemical the brain makes. And we actually can see the reflection of what's in the brain by measuring blood. So we take blood before and after. People do tests in the laboratory and in the field. So our trust tasks, we tempt people with virtue and vice by putting money on the table.
So you have money, you can give it to a stranger, it will grow in size. But now that stranger controls it. The question is, if that stranger is someone you can't talk to, can't see, you're doing this by computer, why would you ever send him or her money?
It turns out that the more money you send that person, the more the brain produces oxytocin, and the more oxytocin on board, the more they reciprocate to you from this larger pie, even though they don't have to.
And oxytocin is what? This is the key, right?
So it's a chemical that your brain makes that, before we started running these experiments about a dozen years ago, was only associated with birth, breastfeeding and sex. All of those are much too messy to run in my lab, so I began investigating whether there were other social interactions, as we've seen in animals, which actually produce this brain chemical.