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RobertSapolsky181 karma

Thanks -- it's nice to know that those lectures were useful. As for your question -- I completely agree. I've now spent a bunch of time trying to teach lawyers/judges about the brain, and it's always been tough going. And then I had this realization -- ah ha, these are the people HATED science at school, that's why they became econ/poli sci majors. So it's going to be a challenge.

RobertSapolsky179 karma

There was this young adult male who I really liked in one of my troops (name was Benjamin). He was a little on the dozy side, and one day I was doing a lengthy observational sample on him and it consisted entirely of him sitting underneath a bush and falling asleep. End of the riveting sample was right around when he woke up, and we both discovered that the entire troop had moved on to someplace else during the stretch, and neither of us had a clue where the troop was. He ran around being agitated, I got on top of my jeep to try to get a view of things, finally spotted them, and I started driving in that direction -- and I paused and looked back at him, and we had this second of shared eye contact where I felt absolutely certain that he knew I had found the troop, and there was something almost resembling relief on his baboon face. I drove slowly, he trotted along beside me, we found the rest of the troop. Of course, the rest of the time, he'd look at me as if I was a tree, but for that moment at least we were just two primates being clueless together.

RobertSapolsky143 karma

Do everything you can to foster your social support -- the knowledge that you're not alone, there's a shoulder to cry on, so on, is extraordinary -- like real science even demonstrates this. And often, one of the best ways to get the advantages of social support is to be a source of support -- when everything feels empty and pointless, the knowledge that someone else is being comforted and helped by your existence is pretty powerful. Amazingly, if you're a baboon, grooming someone lowers your cortisol levels more effectively than being groomed (yeah, I didn't believe that either when I first heard about the finding).

RobertSapolsky107 karma

Thank you. There's this potentially really unuseful loop to get trapped by, which is asking, What counts as good stress?, and with the answer being, "Stress that strengthens you/your health rather than the opposite." Not much help. Nonetheless, there are types of stress that are not damaging. In fact, there are types that are so great that you pay to experience it -- eg., a roller coaster, a good scary movie. This sort of good stress has typical features -- it doesn't go on for a long time, it's not too severe, and it's within what is overall a benevolent setting. Roller coaster rides are 3 minutes, not 3 weeks long, and you know there's the danger that you're going to feel queasy afterward, not that there's a decent chance that you'll be decapitated. What do we call the right kind of stress? Stimulation. And too little of it (i.e., boredom) is just as damaging as too much of it (i.e., our everyday sense of stress as adverse). So that expains everyrthing...until you have to deal with that issue of individual differences -- optimal stimulation for one person might be, say, a tiring but fun morning spent bird-watching, while for someone else, it might be signing up to be a mercenary in Mali. How people wind up with these different setpoints is hugely important.

RobertSapolsky79 karma

Thanks -- that finding is near and dear to my heart. The social culture of that troop continued for about 15 more years, and it was a bit lucky -- male baboons change troops at puberty, so there'd be a new adolescent male show up now and then. Invariably, having grown up off the commune, he'd be this aggressive, displacing jerk; fortunately, the troop could handle one or two of these at a time, slowly assimilating the newcomer into this style -- "we don't do stuff like that here." What always panicked me (nice objective science?) was that three or four males from the real world out there would transfer in at the same time, and they'd have the numbers to destroy the whole culture. Good news -- this never happened. Bad news -- this never happened because the reality of things out there resulted in a large percentage of the troop being shot by park rangers. Another story.