Reason.tv: Moral Markets—Paul Zak discusses Oxytocin, Trade, and Human Nature


"Our biology really tells us that, at our hearts, we're libertarians." So says Paul J. Zak, who spoke recently at Reason Foundation's annual Reason Weekend.

Zak is the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University and is credited with the first published use of the term "neuroeconomics," a new discipline that integrates neuroscience and economics. Zak discusses his "oxytocin argument," which he explores in the book Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy.

In 2004, Zak's lab discovered that the chemical oxytocin (best known for inducing labor in women) allows us to determine whom to trust in situations that require exchange. That's the same trust that makes trade possible and underpins modern economies.  

Approximately 14 minutes-long. Filmed by Alex Manning and Paul Detrick; Editd by Hawk Jensen.

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  1. Ok, didn’t see the payoff for the leg arm thing. What’s the neurological basis for your body doing that?

    Oh…and the rest of the talk was interesting as well.

  2. Zak is the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University and is credited with the first published use of the term “neuroeconomics,” a new discipline that integrates neuroscience and economics.

    Get the pitchforks and torches.

  3. “Our biology really tells us that, at our hearts, we’re libertarians.”

    Right…that just means that when we’re born we are totally selfish and don’t want to obey any rules. Which does kind of sound like libertarianism now that I think about it.

    1. Except for our masters. Our masters are born of selflessness and lift our race out of the sewers of egoism by training guns on us on behalf of the greater good, and forcing us to carry out our brotherly duties and delivering us to enlightenment. Meta_Man…if I get on my knees and beg…will you be my philosopher king?

      1. If you get down on your knees, he will indeed dispense a form of enlightenment.

        But in all seriousness, tell me Meta_Man, where is this King Arthur who is so selfless and noble, to tell us how to behave and enforce it upon an ungrateful populace?

        1. If only we could go back to the good old days when the masses were so terrified of their kings that they would kill anyone among them whose pursuits were not for the edification of the devine kingdom and burn him in offering to the gods lest the depraved heathen invite lightning from the clouds to smite him along with any selfless bondservants unlucky enough to be near him at the time of his transgressions. Meta_Man would fit right in.

    2. Our trolls wouldn’t be so boring if they could manage to come up with some new material. As it is, they mostly seem to have the creative talents of the minds behind That’s So Raven.

  4. Are those little baby doors behind him or is that guy 6’8″ tall

  5. AT first I thought you meant Oxycontin…

  6. Is this guy running for president? If not, he’s the first non-candidate I’ve noticed who does that fucking annoying bendy-finger/thumb pointing thing. KNOCK IT OFF. If you’re gonna point, have the balls to point with your regular finger!

    1. He probably isn’t running. After watching the video, I figure that only 5% of the population would even consider running for President, and some of them only immediately after the death of a beloved pet.

  7. Please remember all are not as optimistic as you and some others, our Government, worst of all want to overpower our will to think. How do you stop them when they have already taken the liberty. Is it bigger than both of US?

  8. Oh I see, there are some combinations of motions that I have trouble making my hands and legs do at the same time without practice , therefore I am controlled by stimulus/response and my rational faculty turns off as soon as my subconscious is prompted, by any sensory data, to release chemicals. This is also proven by the fact that somebody who has never played the drums would not be able to drink a fifth of whiskey and play like John Bonham automatically, without practice.
    “You told your hands and feet to play Black Dog didn’t you? Alas there is no free will.”

    What makes this guy so sure that the oxytocin causes the reciprocal action or the decision to reciprocate and not the other way around? And if it’s all chemical determinism, what chemical was responsible for over-riding the other guy’s volition to make him initiate the good faith trade and what triggered the release of that initial chemical?

    That whole idea makes my brain release a chemical that detects bullshit.

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