Determined, Behave, and the replication crisis

I’m reading Robert Sapolsky’s new book, Determined. There’s one early part that’s already made very happy:

Many readers will know of the “replication crisis” in psychology, where an alarming percentage of published findings, even some in textbooks, turn out to be hard or impossible for other scientists to independently replicate (including some findings, I admit ruefully, that wound up being cited in my 2017 book, where I should have been more discerning). Thus, this section considers only findings whose broad conclusions have been independently replicated.

Sapolsky’s 2017 book, Behave, unfortunately cited many social psychology studies whose findings were victims of the replication crisis. Of course, not everything he cited was so flimsy; the research in biology and neuroscience has proven to be much more durable. But, he was seeking ambitious messages, that require soundness top to bottom to accept.1

I love Sapolsky. He’s heavily influenced the trajectory of my life and my beliefs. He’s clearly tilting the world in a more humane direction. But scientific arguments require good science. I’m hoping Determined does better than his last book.

Mon, Nov 6, 2023

ChatGPT’s summary is good:

  1. Multidisciplinary Approach to Understanding Behavior: Sapolsky integrates insights from biology, neuroscience, psychology, and anthropology to explain why humans behave the way they do. He emphasizes that behavior is complex and cannot be understood through a single lens.
  2. The Role of Biology in Behavior: The book extensively discusses how hormones, genes, and brain structures influence human behavior. It explains how these biological factors interact with environmental influences to shape our actions.
  3. Time Frames of Behavior: Sapolsky explores the different time frames that impact behavior, from the evolutionary history of our species to the immediate moments before an action. This multi-tiered approach helps explain the layers of influences on behavior.
  4. Nature and Nurture: The book challenges the simplistic dichotomy of nature versus nurture, showing how intricately they are intertwined in shaping behavior.
  5. Aggression and Cooperation: Sapolsky delves into the biological roots of both aggression and empathy, exploring how humans can be capable of extreme violence and profound kindness.
  6. Stress and Its Impact: The effects of stress on behavior and health are a key focus, with Sapolsky examining how chronic stress can alter behavior and physiology.
  7. Human Individuality and Group Behavior: The book also looks at how individual behaviors are influenced by social dynamics and group affiliations, highlighting the importance of social context in shaping individual actions.
  8. Implications for Justice and Society: Sapolsky discusses how understanding the biological bases of behavior could inform our justice system and societal norms, suggesting a more nuanced view of responsibility and punishment.