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Robert M. Sapolsky

Stanford University School of Medicine
John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor and Professor of Biology, of Neurology & Neurological Sciences, and of Neurosurgery
Robert Sapolsky is one of the world’s leading neuroscientists and has been called “one of the finest natural history writers around” by the New York Times. In studying wild baboon populations, Sapolsky examined how prolonged stress can cause physical and mental afflictions. His laboratory was among the first to document how stress can damage the neurons of the hippocampus, a region of the brain central to learning and memory. Sapolsky has shown, in both human and baboon societies, that low social status is a major contributor to stress and stress-related illness. He boils down the contemporary human relationship with stress as follows: “We are not getting our ulcers being chased by saber-tooth tigers, we’re inventing our social stressors — and if some baboons are good at dealing with this, we should be able to as well. Insofar as we’re smart enough to have invented this stuff and stupid enough to fall for it, we have the potential to be wise enough to keep [these stressors] in perspective.” Sapolsky’s study of stress in nonhuman primates has offered fascinating insight into how human beings relate to this universal pressure.

He’s authored many books, including Stress, the Aging Brain, and the Mechanisms of Neuron Death; Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers; and The Trouble with Testosterone: And Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament. His latest title is Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (Penguin, 2017).