Summary of Behave

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Behave book summary

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In this ambitious, long and quirky book, Stanford professor and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Robert M. Sapolsky – author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, A Primate’s Memoir and The Trouble with Testosterone – attempts to explain all the major influences on human behavior. He focuses on violence and largely organizes the relevant influences by time scale or sequence. He details influences that take effect merely a second before someone acts, minutes before, then hours and then days – and even centuries. Sapolsky explores historical and evolutionary influences. His broad, idiosyncratic and varied research informs every page of his presentation, and he enlivens most pages with clever asides. Sapolsky enjoys his own commentary; how much you enjoy it will depend on whether you feel it illuminates his ideas or obscures them. getAbstract recommends this singular overview first to Sapolsky fans and also to anyone interested in understanding how evolution, biochemistry and culture shape human behavior.

About the Author

Stanford professor and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Robert M. Sapolsky also wrote Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, A Primate’s Memoir and The Trouble with Testosterone.



People are ambiguous about violence. Many fantasize about righteous violence against those who deserve punishment. Allusions to violence pepper the culture, like sports teams named for dangerous animals. Yet people denounce unethical violence. Violence has conceptual, emotional, cultural and physical components, so you must cross boundaries and disciplines to understand it. Start that quest with the human brain.

The Layers of the Brain

Think of the brain as having three layers. “Layer one” is an ancient section that humans share with reptiles. People share “layer two,” the limbic system, with mammals, and primates share the most development in “layer three,” the neocortex. These layers interact and exchange information.

Layer two, the limbic system, indirectly controls autonomic functions and emotion and releases hormones. It shares an interface with the frontal cortex, which handles analytical thinking and executive functions, such as planning and regulating impulses. Evolutionarily, the cortex emerged recently. The amygdala deals...

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