Paul J. Zak

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Paul J. Zak
Born (1962-02-09) February 9, 1962 (age 62)
Academic career
InstitutionClaremont Graduate University
Alma materSan Diego State University, University of Pennsylvania
Randall Wright

Paul J. Zak (born 9 February 1962) is an American neuroeconomist.


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 among 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] According to The Moral Molecule, Zak's father was an engineer and he takes an engineering approach to neuroscience, seeking to create predictive models of behavior.

His research and ideas have garnered some criticism, particularly from science writer Ed Yong, who points out that oxytocin administration boosts schadenfreude and envy.[8] Oxytocin administration increases the salience of social cues, suggesting that priming effects in these experiments explain their findings.[9] For example, Zak has shown that endogenous oxytocin release eliminates in-group bias indicating that the critiqued effects are due to supraphysiologic doses of oxytocin coupled with antisocial priming. [10]

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.[11]


Zak has coined the term "neuromanagement" to describe how findings in neuroscience can be used to create organizational cultures that are highly engaging for employees and produce high performance for organizations.[12] He has developed a methodology called Ofactor that quantifies organizational culture and identifies how to continuously improve culture to increase trust, joy, and performance. He has used Ofactor to help organizations ranging from nonprofits to startups to Fortune 50 companies change their cultures. His Ofactor research reflects the approach advocated by his late colleague at Claremont Graduate University, management guru Peter F. Drucker, in which organizations with flat hierarchies empower employees. His 2017 book Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies shows leaders of organizations how to create and sustain a culture of trust.

Scholarly impact[edit]

Zak has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers, book chapters, and commentaries. He was listed by researchers at Stanford University as being in the world's top 0.3% of the most cited scientists.[13]

Immersion and consumer neuroscience[edit]

Zak's lab has discovered neurologic signals that reflect engagement in stories and predict post-narrative behaviors.[14] Some of this work was funded by DARPA to help the U.S. military reduce conflict.


Zak is frequently interviewed in the media on topics ranging from economic policy to romantic relationships.[15][16] His 2011 TED talk on oxytocin and trust has gained over a million views.[17] He was named by Wired magazine as one of the 10 Sexiest Geeks in 2005.[18] Zak suggests that intimate contact, using social ritual and social media such as using Twitter and Facebook raises oxytocin levels.[19][20] He is a frequent public speaker on the neuroscience of daily life, including morality, storytelling, and organizational culture and writes articles for magazines and trade publication on these topics.

Zak is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and has created and voiced science dialog for movies, including The Amazing Spiderman.[21] He is a regular panelist on the Discovery Science program Outrageous Acts of Psych. News organizations often request his expertise on neuroscience. In 2016, he was featured on The Bachelor as Dr. Love on one of the main characters' dates.[22] His other TV appearances include Fareed Zakaria's GPS on CNN, the John Stossel show on Fox Business, the Dr. Phil show, TakePart Live on Pivot TV, Fox and Friends, Good Morning America, The Bachelorette, and ABC World News Tonight.



  • Paul J. Zak (2022). Immersion: The Science of the Extraordinary and the Source of Happiness. Lioncrest Publishing. ISBN 978-1544531977.
  • Paul J. Zak (2017). Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies. AMACOM. ISBN 978-0814437667.
  • 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. Archived from the original on 2013-05-26. Retrieved 2012-09-18.
  5. ^ Zak, Paul J. (2008). "The Neurobiology of Trust". Scientific American. 298 (6): 88–95. Bibcode:2008SciAm.298f..88Z. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0608-88. PMID 18642547. S2CID 23489927.
  6. ^ Conlisk, J. (2011). "Professor Zak's empirical studies on trust and oxytocin". Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. 78 (1–2): 160–234. doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2011.01.002.
  7. ^ Ridley, Matt (2010). The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. Harper. p. 94. ISBN 978-0061452055.
  8. ^ Yong, Ed (2012-07-17). "Oxytocin is not a love drug. Don't give it to kids with autism". Slate. Retrieved 2012-09-18.
  9. ^ 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. Bibcode:2011PNAS..108E..45C. doi:10.1073/pnas.1101633108. PMC 3069204. PMID 21441109.
  10. ^ Terris, E.T.; Beavin, L.E.; Barraza, J.A.; Schloss, J.; Zak, P.J. (2018). "Endogenous oxytocin release eliminates in-group bias in monetary transfers with perspective-taking". Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 12: 25. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00035. PMC 5845013. PMID 29556181.
  11. ^ Crockett, Molly. "Molly Crockett: Beware neuro-bunk". Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  12. ^ Paul J. Zak (2014). "The Neuroscience of Trust" (PDF). HR People & Strategy 37(1): 14-17. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-04-05. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
  13. ^ John P. A. Ioannidis, Kevin W. Boyack, Jeroen Baas, "Updated science-wide author databases of standardized citation indicators", PLoS Biology 18(10): e3000918, 2020,
  14. ^ Zak, Paul J. "Why Inspiring Stories Make Us React: The Neuroscience of Narrative". The Dana Foundation. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  15. ^ Byryan Sager (2009-10-30). "Financial Bubbles: Why Do Fools Fall in Love?". Retrieved 2012-09-18.
  16. ^ Geddes, L. "With this test tube I thee wed". New Scientist 13 February 2010.
  17. ^ "Paul Zak: Trust, morality -- and oxytocin". TED. July 2011. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  18. ^ Kristen Philipkoski (2005-12-18). "2005's 10 Sexiest Geeks". Wired. Retrieved 2012-09-18.
  19. ^ Penenberg, Adam L. (2010-07-01). "Social Networking Affects Brains Like Falling in Love". Fast Company. Retrieved 2012-09-18.
  20. ^ "Paul Zak | Profile on". Retrieved 2012-09-18.
  21. ^ "Trust Factor: The Key to High Performance with Paul Zak". Roger Dooley. 2017-02-02. Retrieved 2019-08-27.
  22. ^ Yeo, Debra (2016-01-12). "The Bachelor recap: The sweet smell of success". The Toronto Star. ISSN 0319-0781. Retrieved 2022-02-11.

External links[edit]