Monday, January 16, 2012

Monkey Brains At Work

OK, I admit it. I enjoyed this this opinion piece entirely too much. In fact, I roared with laughter at a couple of points, even though I realized that probably was pretty good evidence that I still harbor a wide stripe of sexism. This wonderful little essay was written by Robert M. Sapolsky, who is a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University, and examines the current slate of candidates for the GOP presidential nomination in light of what we know about primates, especially those species which are male dominated.

Now that Michele Bachmann has dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination, we are left with an array of the usual suspects in American politics — namely a bunch of men who seem to spend much of their lives bragging about how tough they are.

We have Rick Perry waxing macho about the number of executions he's overseen in Texas and Rick Santorum threatening to bomb Iran. There's Newt Gingrich proclaiming that the race is going to boil down to being between "Newt and not-Newt." Even the septuagenarian Ron Paul starts his campaign appearances with Darth Vader's theme music, which he uses to emphasize how dangerous he is to Mitt Romney.

As any zoologist would instantly recognize, what we have here are a bunch of male primates vying for dominance.
[Emphasis added]

Professor Sapolski zeroes in on one species in particular: the rhesus monkey. He then explains in easily understood terms what studies of those monkey brains show us about the role of the brain in that dominance. That part of the essay is especially engaging because it contains a few surprises. The part of the brain that gets the most workout is not the "beat 'em up" center but the one that understands social connections and interactions. And that is rich with significance.

And there is an instructive lesson here for this presidential season. As the candidates vie to show how tough they are on Iran, the national debt and those suffering polar bears trying to foist the myth of global warming on us, we should think about those high-ranking, bully-boy rhesus monkeys and their large rostral prefrontal cortexes. It's likely that politicians too have developed parts of their brain that could be put to better use than feuding and posturing. Perhaps it's time for humans to demand that our leaders use their brains for more than coordinating the muscles responsible for chest thumping.

From your lips to the remaining candidates' ears, Professor.



Blogger Florence said...

Nancy on Time Goes By posted this in the comments today. Sums it up pretty well.

"In closing I want you to know that I have figured out what is wrong with most of the republican candidates..
They suffer from ELECTILE DYSFUCTION."

7:12 AM  
Blogger Diane said...


I am so stealing that!

10:32 AM  

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