cover image The Neuroscience of Fair Play: Why We (Usually) Follow the Golden Rule

The Neuroscience of Fair Play: Why We (Usually) Follow the Golden Rule

Donald W. Pfaff, PhD, Sandra J. Ackerman, . . Dana, $20.95 (300pp) ISBN 978-1-932594-27-0

Pfaff, head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at Rockefeller University, explains his purpose in clear terms: “The whole focus in these pages is on the possibility that some rules of behavior are universally embedded in the human brain—that we are 'wired for good behavior.' ” He claims he's surveyed the world's religions and found some variant of the Golden Rule in every one, leading him to conclude that this trait is likely to be under some sort of genetic control. The simple mechanism for the occurrence of altruistic acts, he says, is the brain's tendency to confuse “self” and “other”—similar to the blurring of identities that occurs in a love relationship. This empathy—whose neural mechanism Pfaff explains—can prevent us from harming others as well as leading us to do good. The author goes into great detail, far more than is necessary to drive his point home, about how neurobiology and neurochemistry interact to help shape behavior. His sections on parenting, sexual love and aggression are intriguing, but the technical information will make this appeal primarily to those with a strong interest in the brain and the science of behavior. B&w illus. (Dec.)