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  • Is there anything unique about human beings?

  • There is.

  • We're the only creatures

  • with fully developed moral sentiments.

  • We're obsessed with morality as social creatures.

  • We need to know why people are doing what they're doing.

  • And I personally am obsessed with morality.

  • It was all due to this woman,

  • Sister Mary Marastela,

  • also known as my mom.

  • As an altar boy, I breathed in a lot of incense,

  • and I learned to say phrases in Latin,

  • but I also had time to think

  • about whether my mother's top-down morality

  • applied to everybody.

  • I saw that people who were religious and non-religious

  • were equally obsessed with morality.

  • I thought, maybe there's some earthly basis

  • for moral decisions.

  • But I wanted to go further

  • than to say our brains make us moral.

  • I want to know if there's a chemistry of morality.

  • I want to know

  • if there was a moral molecule.

  • After 10 years of experiments,

  • I found it.

  • Would you like to see it? I brought some with me.

  • This little syringe

  • contains the moral molecule.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's called oxytocin.

  • So oxytocin is a simple and ancient molecule

  • found only in mammals.

  • In rodents, it was known

  • to make mothers care for their offspring,

  • and in some creatures,

  • allowed for toleration of burrowmates.

  • But in humans, it was only known

  • to facilitate birth and breastfeeding in women,

  • and is released by both sexes during sex.

  • So I had this idea that oxytocin might be the moral molecule.

  • I did what most of us do -- I tried it on some colleagues.

  • One of them told me,

  • "Paul, that is the world's stupidist idea.

  • It is," he said, "only a female molecule.

  • It can't be that important."

  • But I countered, "Well men's brains make this too.

  • There must be a reason why."

  • But he was right, it was a stupid idea.

  • But it was testably stupid.

  • In other words, I thought I could design an experiment

  • to see if oxytocin made people moral.

  • Turns out it wasn't so easy.

  • First of all, oxytocin is a shy molecule.

  • Baseline levels are near zero,

  • without some stimulus to cause its release.

  • And when it's produced, it has a three-minute half-life,

  • and degrades rapidly at room temperature.

  • So this experiment would have to cause a surge of oxytocin,

  • have to grab it fast and keep it cold.

  • I think I can do that.

  • Now luckily, oxytocin is produced

  • both in the brain and in the blood,

  • so I could do this experiment without learning neurosurgery.

  • Then I had to measure morality.

  • So taking on Morality with a capital M is a huge project.

  • So I started smaller.

  • I studied one single virtue:

  • trustworthiness.

  • Why? I had shown in the early 2000s

  • that countries with a higher proportion of trustworthy people

  • are more prosperous.

  • So in these countries, more economic transactions occur

  • and more wealth is created,

  • alleviating poverty.

  • So poor countries are by and large low trust countries.

  • So if I understood the chemistry of trustworthiness,

  • I might help alleviate poverty.

  • But I'm also a skeptic.

  • I don't want to just ask people, "Are you trustworthy?"

  • So instead I use

  • the Jerry Maguire approach to research.

  • If you're so virtuous,

  • show me the money.

  • So what we do in my lab

  • is we tempt people with virtue and vice by using money.

  • Let me show you how we do that.

  • So we recruit some people for an experiment.

  • They all get $10 if they agree to show up.

  • We give them lots of instruction, and we never ever deceive them.

  • Then we match them in pairs by computer.

  • And in that pair, one person gets a message saying,

  • "Do you want to give up some of your $10

  • you earned for being here

  • and ship it to someone else in the lab?"

  • The trick is you can't see them,

  • you can't talk to them.

  • You only do it one time.

  • Now whatever you give up

  • gets tripled in the other person's account.

  • You're going to make them a lot wealthier.

  • And they get a message by computer saying

  • person one sent you this amount of money.

  • Do you want to keep it all,

  • or do you want to send some amount back?

  • So think about this experiment for minute.

  • You're going to sit on these hard chairs for an hour and a half.

  • Some mad scientist is going to jab your arm with a needle

  • and take four tubes of blood.

  • And now you want me to give up this money and ship it to a stranger?

  • So this was the birth of vampire economics.

  • Make a decision and give me some blood.

  • So in fact, experimental economists

  • had run this test around the world,

  • and for much higher stakes,

  • and the consensus view

  • was that the measure from the first person to the second was a measure of trust,

  • and the transfer from the second person back to the first

  • measured trustworthiness.

  • But in fact, economists were flummoxed

  • on why the second person would ever return any money.

  • They assumed money is good,

  • why not keep it all?

  • That's not what we found.

  • We found 90 percent of the first decision-makers sent money,

  • and of those who received money,

  • 95 percent returned some of it.

  • But why?

  • Well by measuring oxytocin

  • we found that the more money the second person received,

  • the more their brain produced oxytocin,

  • and the more oxytocin on board,

  • the more money they returned.

  • So we have a biology of trustworthiness.

  • But wait. What's wrong with this experiment?

  • Two things.

  • One is that nothing in the body happens in isolation.

  • So we measured nine other molecules that interact with oxytocin,

  • but they didn't have any effect.

  • But the second is

  • that I still only had this indirect relationship

  • between oxytocin and trustworthiness.

  • I didn't know for sure

  • oxytocin caused trustworthiness.

  • So to make the experiment,

  • I knew I'd have to go into the brain

  • and manipulate oxytocin directly.

  • I used everything short of a drill

  • to get oxytocin into my own brain.

  • And I found I could do it

  • with a nasal inhaler.

  • So along with colleagues in Zurich,

  • we put 200 men on oxytocin or placebo,

  • had that same trust test with money,

  • and we found that those on oxytocin not only showed more trust,

  • we can more than double the number of people

  • who sent all their money to a stranger --

  • all without altering mood or cognition.

  • So oxytocin is the trust molecule,

  • but is it the moral molecule?

  • Using the oxytocin inhaler,

  • we ran more studies.

  • We showed that oxytocin infusion

  • increases generosity

  • in unilateral monetary transfers

  • by 80 percent.

  • We showed it increases donations to charity

  • by 50 percent.

  • We've also investigated

  • non-pharmacologic ways to raise oxytocin.

  • These include massage,

  • dancing and praying.

  • Yes, my mom was happy about that last one.

  • And whenever we raise oxytocin,

  • people willingly open up their wallets

  • and share money with strangers.

  • But why do they do this?

  • What does it feel like

  • when your brain is flooded with oxytocin?

  • To investigate this question, we ran an experiment

  • where we had people watch a video

  • of a father and his four year-old son,

  • and his son has terminal brain cancer.

  • After they watched the video, we had them rate their feelings

  • and took blood before and after to measure oxytocin.

  • The change in oxytocin

  • predicted their feelings of empathy.

  • So it's empathy

  • that makes us connect to other people.

  • It's empathy that makes us help other people.

  • It's empathy that makes us moral.

  • Now this idea is not new.

  • A then unknown philosopher named Adam Smith

  • wrote a book in 1759

  • called "The Theory of Moral Sentiments."

  • In this book, Smith argued

  • that we are moral creatures, not because of a top-down reason,

  • but for a bottom-up reason.

  • He said we're social creatures,

  • so we share the emotions of others.

  • So if I do something that hurts you, I feel that pain.

  • So I tend to avoid that.

  • If I do something that makes you happy, I get to share your joy.

  • So I tend to do those things.

  • Now this is the same Adam Smith who, 17 years later,

  • would write a little book called "The Wealth of Nations" --

  • the founding document of economics.

  • But he was, in fact, a moral philosopher,

  • and he was right on why we're moral.

  • I just found the molecule behind it.

  • But knowing that molecule is valuable,

  • because it tells us how to turn up this behavior

  • and what turns it off.

  • In particular, it tells us

  • why we see immorality.

  • So to investigate immorality,

  • let me bring you back now to 1980.

  • I'm working at a gas station

  • on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, California.

  • You sit in a gas station all day,

  • you see lots of morality and immorality, let me tell you.

  • So one Sunday afternoon, a man walks into my cashier's booth

  • with this beautiful jewelry box.

  • Opens it up and there's a pearl necklace inside.

  • And he said, "Hey, I was in the men's room.

  • I just found this. What do you think we should do with it?"

  • "I don't know, put it in the lost and found."

  • "Well this is very valuable.

  • We have to find the owner for this." I said, "Yea."

  • So we're trying to decide what to do with this,

  • and the phone rings.

  • And a man says very excitedly,

  • "I was in your gas station a while ago,

  • and I bought this jewelry for my wife, and I can't find it."

  • I said, "Pearl necklace?" "Yeah."

  • "Hey, a guy just found it."

  • "Oh, you're saving my life. Here's my phone number.

  • Tell that guy to wait half an hour.

  • I'll be there and I'll give him a $200 reward."

  • Great, so I tell the guy, "Look, relax.

  • Get yourself a fat reward. Life's good."

  • He said, "I can't do it.

  • I have this job interview in Galena in 15 minutes,

  • and I need this job, I've got to go."

  • Again he asked me, "What do you think we should do?"

  • I'm in high school. I have no idea.

  • So I said, "I'll hold it for you."

  • He said, "You know, you've been so nice, let's split the reward."

  • I'll give you the jewelry, you give me a hundred dollars,

  • and when the guy comes ... "

  • You see it. I was conned.

  • So this is a classic con called the pigeon drop,

  • and I was the pigeon.

  • So the way many cons work

  • is not that the conman gets the victim to trust him,

  • it's that he shows he trusts the victim.

  • Now we know what happens.

  • The victim's brain releases oxytocin,

  • and you're opening up your wallet or purse, giving away the money.

  • So who