The Neuroscience of Fair Play

Why We (Usually) Follow the Golden Rule

Several recent books, using anthropology, psychology and evolution, have argued that our ethical or moral life evolved from nature. Now a distinguished neuroscientist takes that proposition a critical step farther, right to the basics: brain signals.

Donald Pfaff, Ph.D., head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at Rockefeller University, gives us the first book to describe how ethics may be a hardwired function of the human brain.

Pfaff explains how specific brain circuits cause us to consider an action toward another as if it were going to happen to us, prompting us to treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Into this picture, he brings various brain hormones that produce or induce forms of moral behavior such as individual heroism, parental love, close friendship, and violence and aggression.

Pfaff solves the mystery of our universal ethical precepts, presenting a rock-solid hypothesis of why humans across time and geography have such similar notions of good and bad, right and wrong


Chapter 1. The Subway Story

Chapter 2. The Golden Rule

Chapter 3. Being Afraid

Chapter 4. Inside the Cell, Fear Itself

Chapter 5. Shared Fears, Shared Fates

Chapter 6. The Sociable Hormone

Chapter 7. Sex and Parental Love

Chapter 8. The Urge to Harm

Chapter 9. Murder and Other Mayhem

Chapter 10. Balancing Act

Chapter 11. Influencing Temperament

Chapter 12. A New Paradigm