Paul J. Zak

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Paul J. Zak
Paul J. Zak
Born (1962-02-09)9 February 1962
Institution Claremont Graduate University
Alma mater San Diego State University,University of Pennsylvania
Contributions Neuroeconomics

Paul J. Zak (born 9 February 1962) is an American Neuroeconomist known as a proponent of neuroeconomics.


Zak graduated with degrees in mathematics and economics from San Diego State University before acquiring a PhD in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania. He is professor at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California. He has studied brain imaging, and was the first to identify the role of oxytocin in mediating trusting behaviors between unacquainted humans.[1] Zak directs the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies [2] at Claremont Graduate University and is a member of the Neurology Department at Loma Linda University Medical Center. He edited Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy (Princeton University Press, 2008).[3] His book, The Moral Molecule was published in 2012 by Dutton. The book summarizes his findings on oxytocin and discusses the role of oxytocin in human experiences and behaviors such as empathy, altruism, and morality.

Zak's research aims to challenge the thought that people generally are driven primarily to act for what they consider their self-interest,[4] and asks how morality may modulate one's interpretation of what constitutes "self-interest" in one's own personal terms.[5] Methodological questions have arisen in regards to Zak's work, however.[6] Other commentators though have called his work "one of the most revealing experiments in the history of economics." [7]

Zak is frequently interviewed in the media on topics ranging from economic policy to romantic relationships.[8][9] His 2011 TED talk on oxytocin and trust has gained over a million views.[10] He was named by Wired magazine as one of the 10 Sexiest Geeks in 2005.[11] He is often called "Dr. Love" and believes in the habit of hugging people to raise oxytocin levels. Zak suggests that intimate contact, using social ritual and social media such as using Twitter and Facebook raises oxytocin levels.[12][13]

His research and ideas have garnered some criticism, particularly from science writer Ed Yong, pointing out that oxytocin boosts schadenfreude and envy.[14] Oxytocin increases the salience of social cues, suggesting that priming effects in these experiments explain their findings.[15]

Neuroscientist Molly Crockett also disputes Zak's claims, referring to studies that show oxytocin increases gloating, bias at the expense of other groups, and in some cases decreasing cooperation; suggesting oxytocin is as much an "immoral molecule" as 'the moral molecule' Paul Zak claims.[16] His 2012 book The Moral Molecule explores these issues.



  • Paul J. Zak (2012). The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity. Dutton. ISBN 978-0525952817. 
  • Paul J. Zak (2008). Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691135236. 

Journal Articles[edit]



  1. ^ Paul J. Zak, Robert Kurzban and William T. Matzner, "The Neurobiology of Trust", Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1032:224–227, 2004.
  2. ^ "Center for Neuroeconomic Studies". Retrieved 2012-09-18. 
  3. ^ "Center for Neuroeconomic Studies". Retrieved 2012-09-18. 
  4. ^ Gittins, Ross (2008). "Most of us are moral most of the time - and so are our markets". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2012-09-18 
  5. ^ Zak, Paul J. "The Neurobiology of Trust". Scientific American. Retrieved 2012-09-18. 
  6. ^ Conlisk, J. (2011). "Professor Zak's empirical studies on trust and oxytocin". Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 78: 160–234. doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2011.01.002.  edit
  7. ^ Ridley, Matt (2010). The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. Harper. p. 94. ISBN 978-0061452055. 
  8. ^ Byryan Sager (2009-10-30). "Financial Bubbles: Why Do Fools Fall in Love?". Retrieved 2012-09-18. 
  9. ^ Geddes, L. "With this test tube I thee wed". New Scientist 13 February 2010.
  10. ^ "Paul Zak: Trust, morality -- and oxytocin". TED. July 2011. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  11. ^ Kristen Philipkoski (2005-12-18). "2005's 10 Sexiest Geeks". Retrieved 2012-09-18. 
  12. ^ Penenberg, Adam L. (2010-07-01). "Social Networking Affects Brains Like Falling in Love". Fast Company. Retrieved 2012-09-18. 
  13. ^ "Paul Zak | Profile on". Retrieved 2012-09-18. 
  14. ^ Yong, Ed. "Oxytocin is not a love drug. Don’t give it to kids with autism. - Slate Magazine". Retrieved 2012-09-18. 
  15. ^ Chen, F. S.; Kumsta, R.; Heinrichs, M. (2011). "Oxytocin and intergroup relations: Goodwill is not a fixed pie". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (13): E45. doi:10.1073/pnas.1101633108.  edit
  16. ^ Crockett, Molly. "Molly Crockett: Beware neuro-bunk". Retrieved 2012-01-06. 

External links[edit]