The art of analyzing species – Robert Sapolsky – CDI 2011

The art of analyzing species - Robert Sapolsky - CDI 2011



[Applause] well thank you these things are very peculiar I think Salman Khan said he felt like Lady gaga coming out of it I'm realizing I feel like some strange breeding experiment between Lady gaga on a laboratory rats thing okay let me start off with apologies you may have noted in the program that I was supposed to be here yesterday and the trouble was that I forgot which day I was coming here so thank you to the organizers for the flexibility and as soon as I get home my children are going to be teaching me the days of the week and focus on that in addition apologies I'm from New York City and as you may know everybody there has bipolar disorder and gets very manic and speaks quickly and doesn't use words that are in the dictionary so my apologies to the translator and I will try to speak slowly okay so starting off I divide my life between being a laboratory neurobiologist studying the brain and a primatologist studying primates out in the field and if you ever find yourself around a primatologist almost certainly what you are going to have to hear is about the species they study is the most wonderful species on earth it is the greatest they are in love with their species you should be they are I study a species of primate that no one in their right mind would love and this is a species that nonetheless is very interesting they're very interesting because they are schemee dirty untrustworthy Machiavellian backstabbing bastards so I like them but I don't love them what these are our Savannah baboons baboons living in the savannas of East Africa my field site for the last 30 years has been the Serengeti of East Africa and these animals are perfect for what I study which is stress stress and health stress and disease and the reason why this is interesting to me in terms of medical research and all of that is nobody is dying of smallpox anymore nobody is dying of dengue fever or the Black Plague what we have the luxury of right now is dying of diseases where our bodies slowly fall apart on us over 60 70 80 years and these are diseases of westernized lifestyle heart disease cancer diabetes all of these diseases where instead of going in two days fever you spend 5060 years having to make the right decisions and perhaps making the wrong ones and what we see is most of these diseases that do us in these days in the West these diseases have slowly falling apart over time these are diseases that could be caused by or be made worse by stress so I'm very interested in this issue of why do some individuals bodies and some individual psyches deal better with stress than others and these are the perfect animals on earth to study just because how unlovable they are okay stress stress means something very specific if you are a normal animal you were a zebra a lion has left out has ripped your stomach open your intestines are dragging in the dust and you still need to get out of there this is stress or you are that lion who is half starve to death and if you don't manage to chase down the zebra you are not going to survive a short term physical crisis and your body has a stress response then you secrete all sorts of hormones and I will not torture you with their names but what that's meant to do is to save your life if you were that zebra or that lion you mobilize energy to whichever muscles are working your blood pressure and heart rate increases so you could deliver it faster you turn off all of the long-term building projects because you don't know yet if there is a long-term you shut down growth you shut down tissue repair you shut down reproduction this is an expensive optimistic thing to be doing with your body and basically you're running for your life there's a lion two steps behind you you know ovulate some other time don't do it right now hit puberty tomorrow not right now make sperm some other day do it later if there is a later you are mind your cognition temporarily gets much sharper your immune system works better this is perfect exactly what you want to do if you were a zebra or a lion and when you get to us though you have the problem of us turning on stress responses not because of lions but because of psychological craziness because of psychosocial factors because what we do is we turn on the exact same stress response as a zebra running for its life and we turn it on for traffic jams every day we turned it on for psychological stress which we experience for long periods and if you experience for long periods you're going to get sick constantly mobilize energy there's some metabolic diseases you were more at risk for constantly increase your blood pressure obviously diseases they're constantly shut down growth tissue repair reproductive physiology you're good to get into trouble all these ways what my laboratory has spent the last 25 years doing is studying how one class of stress hormones can kill some of your brain cells bad news so we've got this issue here if you are going to be like a normal mammal you had better be able to turn on the stress response when you're running for your life if you're gonna be some smart sophisticated primate you're going to be turning it on long too often and it's going to impact your health now in that regard the baboon is not a normal mammal baboons live in these big troops of fifty a hundred animals or so it is a great ecosystem they live in these big groups the Lions do not go after them much their infants survive most importantly they spend only three hours a day getting their day's food that means something critical if they only have to spend three hours a day gaining food they have nine hours a day to spend being really shitty to each other and that's the reason why they're great to study they don't get ulcers because they're being chased by predators they get ulcers because they're causing ulcers for each other they have the free time the luxury to generate psychological stress and if you see a baboon in the Serengeti who is miserable he's miserable because another baboon has been working very hard to make him miserable he's just like humans okay so what is the misery about and that's where this issue of anger aggression comes in where I will be showing you a very different way things could turn out with baboons so what is this about with baboons these are extremely aggressive creatures they have the highest rates of aggression of any primates they have canines the size you get on adult male lions and they use them tremendous amounts of aggression and where you will have for example that individual and the slide that I just went past could I have one slide back please where you see he has a deep slash on his shoulder and this is what baboons are about aggression far more often it's about threats of aggression psychological manipulation social skills things like as follows here abilities to form coalition's these are two coalition's of baboons facing off against each other and if you do not know baboon body language these are four very very unhappy baboons these are four very tense baboons violence is about to break out and a second later indeed it does a second later the fight begins between does anybody see the fourth baboon you see that little speck way up there at the top on the left this is what baboons do when the going gets tough you bail out on your partner about half the time when you form a coalition with another male when the fight occurs you don't support him and of the times that you don't a third of the time you switch to the other team this is pure psychological stress these are miserable animals to each other an enormous ly stressful psychological landscape where the fighting is not just symbolic fighting it is very real fighting and this was a baboon who had joined one troop of mine about a month before that and the only way to describe him is he had terrible political skills because he was threatening big high ranking males he should not have gone anywhere dear one evening a coalition of six males ganged up on him and this is what was left in the morning and over the 30 years I've studied male baboons the leading cause of death is male baboons and this gave rise to a following quote and this was a quote by Irvin Devore who was one of the grandfather's of primatology and one of the first people to study baboons out in the wild in the early 60s and I don't oh it's got the English up there so what you see is his emphasizing ooh baboons they're always having to be aggressive to avoid predators that sort of thing and as a result it is just their instinct to be aggressive all the time they are aggressive in every possible situation this is inevitable this is baboon nature this is instinct this is innate this is unchangeable so let me show you how it can change and this is something that happened some years ago in one of my troops that I studied during the time there was a big increase in tourism in this National Park and there was a baboon troop that lived next door to my troop about two kilometers away and in their territory there was a tourist Lodge which was growing bigger because of tourism and what they were doing was a problem in a lot of national parks which is they dig a big hole in the ground and they dumped their garbage there each morning so that soon animals living on normal diets are instead coming to eat off of the garbage so that was going on in this next territory over and that troop of baboons that was there pretty soon all they were doing was eating the garbage they stopped going out and getting normal food they would be in there fighting over the leftover meat the leftover desserts they stopped sleeping where they normally did they would sleep in the trees right above the garbage dump and right around five minutes to nine when the tractor would come with the garbage they would all come down out of the tree and sort of waddle over there because their bodies were completely different they increased weight their insulin levels their triglyceride levels had gone up they had borderline diabetes I studied a lot of that in that truth okay so this troop was going along and this is what their life was like somehow the males in my troop found out there's a great garbage dump up there and it evolved that every morning about half of the males in my troop would pick up run two kilometres and go and fight their way in to be able to get some of the garbage and as we see here on the top left there is the garbage being dumped into this pit and there's some of these male baboons from that troop as well as mine fighting over the garbage there and when they were done they would come back and join the rest of the troop now something suddenly occurred in there which was there was a massive outbreak of tuberculosis among the baboons the baboons in that four and I did a ton of work to try to figure out what was happening what we see on top on the right is a normal adult male baboon on the bottom left is a male baboon dying of tuberculosis and what he looks like inside afterward where was the tuberculosis coming from people around there when they had cows that had tuberculosis were bribing the meat inspector in the lodge to approve the cow and they would chop up the cow and take out the tubercular lungs and toss it into the garbage dump so as a result of that all of the baboons in that troop died and the half of the males in my troop who went to the garbage all of them died as well this made for a very different environment because who were the males who went over there each day two things about them they were aggressive they had to fight their way into this other troop to get to the garbage also early in the morning is when baboons do all their social behavior stuff these guys didn't care about sociality so these were males who were aggressive and not particularly social and all of them died and what was left was a troop where there were twice as many females as males and the males who were left were to use a scientific term were nice they were nice baboons they were not aggressive they were highly social and this transformed what the troop was like they suddenly went out in the day they would be much closer to each other than you would see in a normal baboon trip true another example of this here you do not see this density of baboons normally all sorts of other things you would see this is not typical an adult male baboon carrying a baby the males were helping take care of the kids instead of being aggressive and more things lots and lots of social grooming the most I had ever seen in any troop and most amazingly here if you study baboons this picture is as crazy as if I told you baboons could fly or they grow antlers or were photosynthetic here's to adult male baboons grooming each other you don't see this in normal troops okay so all of these nice guys are left and for a number of reasons I wasn't able to study this troop for about ten years I was studying other troops after about ten years I came back and this troop was still like that very social not very aggressive all that sort of thing great but it turned out all of the males who survived the tuberculosis they had long since died who are the males there now these were males who grew up elsewhere who came into the troop around puberty in other words these were males who grew up out in the terrible awful real world out there and got raised that way and transferred into this troop and somehow they stopped being like in the other troops and they learned we don't do stuff like this here and what I then spent a ton of time showing was how much healthier animals were in this troop but also try to figure out how was culture being transmitted over the generations and that troop is still like that ten years later now it's got a lot to do with the females the females are the ones who teach the new males we don't do stuff like that here so we see here yes you see so we see this transition here from this baboon troop of the species where from the very first textbook about primates in 1963 they were already the textbook example of aggression that is inevitable that is innate that is universal among males and what we see here is all it took was one generations worth and you created a completely different troop a troop where new individuals could come in who were being raised out there and what we were able to show is it took about six months for them to learn we don't do stuff like that here and for them to adapt this style and what is this show at the end in terms of humans well one obvious prescription which is the world would be a much nicer place if we went out and gave tuberculosis to all the aggressive men on this planet so that would be good but maybe another easier sort of take-home lesson here which is how to think about human social behavior in the world of behavioral neurobiology and neurogenetics the worst most destructive words out there are words like instinct and innate and hardwired and all these words that basically say you can't do anything about it and an example like this shows you could do something about it think of this Western Europe Western Europe up until around 1945 spent the previous five hundred years slaughtering each other left and right and something shifted around then and they haven't had a war since another example if you were back in the 17th century and you were in Western Europe the scariest people out there were the Swedes the Swedes in the Swedish Empire they were unbelievably aggressive they were terrifying savages and somewhere between then and now instead Sweden became the best place on earth to get a sauna I mean Sweden still has a military but look it is a very different military here's a recent picture of the Swedish military some paratroopers going about their training there and here we have instead this is a different society by now clearly okay so what do we have here as a lesson basically humans are capable of living in every ecological niche on this planet we have come up with every possible economic system every version of God's and God and what happens after death or what doesn't happen every version of culture and language and if you could look at baboons and in one generation they transform their society and that quote back then it is an inevitable feature of baboons it is not inevitable in the slightest if baboons could do that in one generation we do not have a leg to stand on if we say there are inevitable features of human aggression and if you say that you don't know anything about human behavior or primate behavior so thank you thank you very much one question I read in a book that you mentioned that we have to be careful about that we have a problem sometimes with our testosterones could you explain or elaborate a little bit about that okay testosterone is the most overrated hormone on earth it has less to do with behavior than you would think okay here's a very brief example of what testosterone does you take five monkeys living in a research place five monkeys five males and they have a dominance hierarchy one two three four five number one defeats the other four number two defeats the other three so on now take number three and inject him with testosterone testosterone like so much testosterone that he's going to like grow six beards and his testes or who knows a huge amount of testosterone and you look at him and he becomes more aggressive he is yes involved in more aggressive interactions does that mean that he number three is now challenging number two and number one not at all it means that he is being a complete nightmare two numbers four and five attacking them all the time what does that tell you testosterone does not cause aggression testosterone exaggerates whatever socialization has taught you about aggression and that's very different fantastic thank you very much [Applause] you

26 Comments

  • Nelson Varela says:

    oh! it's so sad, when he says that nobody it's dying from dengue, Just today in my country a few kids are dying from dengue.

  • TrekkieGrrrl says:

    I came here in a quest to watch each and any Sapolsky video here. And found myself learning Spanish at the same time <3

  • Clair Pahlavi says:

    Primatology alters one's
    perspective forever.
    Not everybody gets it.

  • AntiTrumper trump hater says:

    War has been one of the main motivating forces for ingenuity. When you are afraid that the other aide is going to defeat you with superior technology you will either have to adapt and have the qualities that enable that other tribe to do what they are soing to you.or become enslaved that has been an ongoing pattern throughout history. I think his example about Swiss troops was very weak and that Sopalsky was clutching straws5here to justify an untensble argument that he knows deep down is true . I

  • Adam Gaskins says:

    It's your duty to share this video. More eyes should be on this.

  • Ex Veritas says:

    6:34 – humans in a comfortable environment are the same.

  • Pablo Martín Ankudowicz says:

    Brillante explicación (resultado de sus 30 años de estudios científicos) de como el entorno modela el comportamiento social, ya que las personas somos seres biológico-sociales situados en un entorno. Ni todo es biología, ni todo es social. Maravilloso.

  • Justin Ceneviva says:

    Wouldn't work for humans, because human females say "I want a nice guy" but then go and have sex with assholes from the ages of 18-30.

  • Илья Чигрин says:

    that's what all fairy tale stories should be based on

  • Gene Starwind says:

    Difference is there are billions of humans separated by an insane amount of factors on every level, and this is a single troop of Baboons in one area. I understand what he's inferring, but I just don't know, even despite our evolutionary similarities, if the outcome would even be close to comparable. Estrogen isn't sunshine and flowers either.

  • Red Mex says:

    This Guy is Amazing! Can't get enough of his YouTube videos!

  • I'm an idiot says:

    Lady Gaga = Joke
    Robert Sapolsky = Genius

  • WTF how bizarre says:

    Hmm… What about Robert Sapolsky's view of No Free Will how does that fit in to the destructiveness of 'you cannot do anything about it' puzzle?

  • Van Hoey 👩‍⚕️ says:

    I love this guy!

  • Tony tone says:

    Supolski is definitely a FAG, him using that picture of naked disgusting men at the end..only a fuking BFF ;;Y/DR homo would use that type of photo out of ALL THE PHOTOS ON EART5 HE COULD'VE CHOSEN, HE CHOOSSES THAT ONE?..and why did he choose one with young in shaape men with big butts

  • Ruchi Khanna says:

    He's obsessed with laboratory rats.

  • tkykhs says:

    "I forgot which day I was coming here." Honest and funny – best excuse ever.

  • David Lindes says:

    17:40: "The world would be a much nicer place if we went out and gave tuberculosis to all the aggressive men on this planet"… now there's an interesting experiment to try! 😮

  • David Lindes says:

    All the flashing graphics in the background I find highly distracting.

  • Kyrani Eade says:

    Closing commen @19:54 " we do not have a leg to stand on if we say
    there are inevitable features of human aggression and if you say that you don't know anything about human behavior or primate behavior."

    This is a denial of the inhumane subculture and the deadening of conscience to be able to treat others as objects, to exploit them without any empathy. Baboons cannot be equated to humans. Baboons may be extremely competitive and aggressive but they are not evil.

  • Nichole says:

    I love you Robert!

  • Aymii keegan says:

    Dr Robert sapolsky is the best ! Best teacher ever !!

  • Karl J says:

    There is the obvious chance of regression, with primates and humans.

  • Kilo Weigher says:

    I thought he was talking about the hebrews

  • jacki jura says:

    I love you Robert!

  • eduardo reynoso says:

    Robert Sapolsky es un grande

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