Robert Sapolsky

Robert Sapolsky

Robert Maurice Sapolsky (born 1957) is the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences, and Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences, and by courtesy, Neurosurgery, at Stanford University. Although born into a devout Orthodox Jewish family, Sapolsky is a fervent atheist. [Dan Barker: "When we invited Robert Sapolsky to speak at one of out national conventions to receive our 'Emperor Has No Clothes Award', Robert wrote to me, 'Sure! Get the local Holiday Inn to put up a sign that says Welcome, Hell-bound Atheists!' [...] So, welcome you hell-bound atheist to Freethought Radio, Robert." Sapolsky: "Well, delighted to be among my kindred souls." [...] Annie Laurie Gaylor: So how long have you been a kindred non-soul, what made you an atheist Robert?" Sapolsky: "Oh, I was about fourteen or so... I was brought up very very religiously, orthodox Jewish background and major-league rituals and that sort of thing [...] and something happened when I was fourteen, and no doubt what it was really about was my gonads or who knows what, but over the course of a couple of weeks there was some sort of introspective whatever, where I suddenly decided this was all gibberish. And, among other things, also deciding there's no free will, but not in a remotely religious context, and deciding all of this was nonsense, and within a two week period all of that belief stuff simply evaporated." [ Freethought Radio podcast (mp3)] , 3 February 2007 (accessed 22 April 2008).]


Robert Sapolsky received his B.A. in biological anthropology "summa cum laude" from Harvard University and subsequently attended Rockefeller University where he received his Ph.D. in Neuroendocrinology, working in the lab of Bruce McEwen, a world-renowned endocrinologist. He is currently a professor at Stanford University, holding joint appointments in several departments, including Biological Sciences, Neurology & Neurological Sciences, and Neurosurgery. [cite web|url=|title=Stanford Univ. detail of Prof. Sapolsky|accessdate=2007-07-27]


Sapolsky, a neuroendocrinologist, has focused his research on issues of stress and neuron degeneration, as well as on the possibilities of gene therapy strategies for help in protecting susceptible neurons from disease. Currently, he is working on gene transfer techniques to strengthen neurons against the disabling effects of glucocorticoids. Sapolsky also spends time annually in Kenya studying a population of wild baboons in order to identify the sources of stress of their environment, and the relationship between personality and patterns of stress-related disease in these animals. More specifically, Sapolsky studies the cortisol levels between the Alpha male and female and the subordinates to determine stress level.

He is the author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases and Coping (1994), which explores the effects of prolonged stress and its contribution to damaging physical and mental afflictions. His other books include, The Trouble with Testosterone: And Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament (1997), Junk Food Monkeys (1997), A Primate’s Memoir (2002) and Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals (2005).


Sapolsky has received numerous honors and awards for his work, including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship genius grant in 1987 [cite web|url=|title=MacArthur Fellows List - July 1987|accessdate=2008-03-24] , an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and the Klingenstein Fellowship in Neuroscience.

The UK hardcore band Johnny Truant have a song named after Sapolsky on their debut full-length album The Repercussions of a Badly Planned Suicide.


"Finish this lecture, go outside, and unexpectedly get gored by an elephant, and you are going to secrete glucocorticoids. There's no way out of it. You cannot psychologically reframe your experience and decide you did not like the shirt, here's an excuse to throw it out—that sort of thing."cite web|url=|title=Stress, Neurodegeneration and Individual Differences|accessdate=2007-07-27]

"Most of us don't collapse into puddles of stress-related disease."

"If a rat is a good model for your emotional life, you're in big trouble."

"What's the punch line here? Physiologically, it doesn't come cheap being a bastard 24 hours a day."

ee also

*Hans Selye
*Walter Bradford Cannon

Selected works


* "Stress, the Aging Brain, and the Mechanisms of Neuron Death" (MIT Press, 1992) ISBN 0-262-19320-5
* "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" (1994, Holt/Owl 3rd Rep. Ed. 2004) ISBN 0-8050-7369-8
* "The Trouble with Testosterone: And Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament" (Scribner, 1997) ISBN 0-684-83891-5
* "Junk Food Monkeys" (Headline Book Publishing, 1997) ISBN 978-0747276760
* "A Primate's Memoir" (Touchstone Books, 2002) ISBN 0-7432-0247-3
* "Monkeyluv : And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals" (Scribner, Fall 2005) ISBN 0-7432-6015-5
* "Are the Desert People Winning?" "Discover" magazine, August 2005, Vol.26, #8 , p. 38–41
* "Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition" (The Teaching Company, 2005) ISBN 1-59803-079-5 (The Great Courses audio lecture series)

Journal articles

*cite journal
last = Sapolsky
first = Robert
coauthors = Lewis C. Krey, and Bruce S. McEwen
title = The Neuroendocrinology of Stress and Aging: The Glucocorticoid Cascade Hypothesis
journal = Science of Aging Knowledge Environment
volume = 38
pages = 21
date = 25 September 2000

*cite journal
last = Sapolsky
first = Robert
coauthors = L. Michael Romero and Allan U. Munck
title = How Do Glucocorticoids Influence Stress Responses? Integrating Permissive, Suppressive, Stimulatory, and Preparative Actions
journal = Endocrine Reviews
volume = 21
pages = 55–89
date = 2000
doi = 10.1210/er.21.1.55
pmid = 10696570


External links

* [ Robert Sapolsky] profile at Stanford School of Medicine
* [ Going Wild]
* [ Robert Sapolsky at]
* [ Robert Sapolsky at]
* [ Robert Sapolsky at]
* [ Robert Sapolsky Lecture at Syracuse]
* [ excerpt of the "Emperor Has No Clothes Award" acceptance speech]
* [ New York Times article "No Time for Bullies: Baboons Retool Their Culture,"] readable account of Sapolsky's research on baboon culture
* [ Stress: Portrait of a Killer] , National Geographic special featuring Sapolsky's research

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