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Sapolsky Stanford Coursework

First thing you need to know: Before doing anything else, you should simply click "play" and start watching the video above. It doesn't take long for Robert Sapolsky, one of Stanford's finest teachers, to pull you right into his course. Better to watch him than listen to me.

Second thing to know: Sapolsky is a MacArthur Fellow, a world renowned neurobiologist, and an adept science writer best known for his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. Much of his research focuses on the interplay between the mind and body (how biology affects the mind, and the mind, the body), and that relationship lies at the heart of this course called "Human Behavioral Biology."

Now the third: Human Behavioral Biology is available on YouTube and iTunes for free. The course, consisting of 25 videos spanning 36 hours, is otherwise listed in the Biology section of our big list of Free Online courses (now 1,300 courses in total).

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For the singer, see Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Robert Morris Sapolsky (born April 6, 1957) is an American neuroendocrinologist and author. He is currently a professor of biology, and professor of neurology and neurological sciences and, by courtesy, neurosurgery, at Stanford University. In addition, he is a research associate at the National Museums of Kenya.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Sapolsky was born in Brooklyn, New York, to immigrants from the Soviet Union. His father, Thomas Sapolsky, was an architect who renovated the restaurants Lüchow's and Lundy's.[3] Robert was raised an Orthodox Jew and spent his time reading about and imagining living with silverback gorillas. By age 12, he was writing fan letters to primatologists. He attended John Dewey High School and, by that time, he was reading textbooks on the subject and teaching himself Swahili.[4]

Sapolsky describes himself as an atheist.[5][6] He stated in his acceptance speech for the Emperor Has No Clothes Award, "I was raised in an Orthodox (Jewish) household, and I was raised devoutly religious up until around age 13 or so. In my adolescent years, one of the defining actions in my life was breaking away from all religious belief whatsoever."[7]

In 1978, Sapolsky received his B.A. in biological anthropologysumma cum laude from Harvard University.[8] He then went to Kenya to study the social behaviors of baboons in the wild; after which he returned to New York; studying at Rockefeller University, where he received his Ph.D. in neuroendocrinology working in the lab of endocrinologistBruce McEwen.

Following Sapolsky's initial year-and-a-half field study in Africa, he returned every summer for another twenty-five years to observe the same group of baboons, from the late 70s to the early 90s. He spent 8 to 10 hours a day for approximately four months each year recording the behaviors of these primates.[9]


Sapolsky is currently the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor at Stanford University, holding joint appointments in several departments, including Biological Sciences, Neurology & Neurological Sciences, and Neurosurgery. [10]

As a neuroendocrinologist, he has focused his research on issues of stress and neuronal degeneration, as well as on the possibilities of gene therapy strategies for protecting susceptible neurons from disease. Currently, he is working on gene transfer techniques to strengthen neurons against the disabling effects of glucocorticoids. Each year Sapolsky spends time in Kenya studying a population of wild baboons in order to identify the sources of stress in 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. An early but still relevant example of his studies of olive baboons is to be found in his 1990 Scientific American article, "Stress in the Wild".[11] He has also written about neurological impairment and the insanity defense within the American legal system.[12][13]

Sapolsky's work has been featured widely in the press, most notably in the National Geographic special Stress: Portrait of a Killer,[14] several articles in The New York Times,[15][16]Wired Magazine[17] and the Stanford University Magazine.[18] He has also written a number of books and popular science articles about his own work.


Sapolsky has received numerous honors and awards for his work, including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship genius grant in 1987,[19] an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and the Klingenstein Fellowship in Neuroscience. He was also awarded the National Science FoundationPresidential Young Investigator Award and the Young Investigator of the Year Awards from the Society for Neuroscience, the International Society for Psychoneuroendocrinology, and the Biological Psychiatry Society.

In 2007 he received the John P. McGovern Award for Behavioral Science, awarded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[20]

In 2008 he received Wonderfest'sCarl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization.[21] In February 2010 Sapolsky was named to the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Honorary Board of distinguished achievers,[22] following the earlier Emperor Has No Clothes Award for year 2002.[23]

See also[edit]



  • 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 Paperbacks/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 Publishing, 1997) ISBN 978-0-7472-7676-0 (UK edition of The Trouble with Testosterone)
  • A Primate's Memoir (Touchstone Books, 2002) ISBN 0-7432-0247-3
  • Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals (Scribner, 2005) ISBN 0-7432-6015-5
  • Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (Penguin Press, May 2017) ISBN 1-5942-0507-8

Video courses[edit]


External links[edit]

  1. ^Hanson, E. Simon (January 5, 2001). "A Conversation With Robert Sapolsky". Brain Connection. Retrieved 3 June 2014.  
  2. ^"Robert Sapolsky". Retrieved 22 Feb 2009. 
  3. ^At home with: Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky; Family Man With a Foot In the Veld, By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN, New York Times, APRIL 19, 2001
  4. ^Vaughan, Christopher. "Going Wild A biologist gets in touch with his inner primate". Stanford Magazine. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  5. ^Shwartz, Mark (March 7, 2007). "Robert Sapolsky discusses physiological effects of stress". News. Stanford University. Retrieved October 13, 2012. 
  6. ^"Professor Sapolsky Explains the Origin of Religion Part 1/2". 
  7. ^"Professor Sapolsky, Belief and Biology". 
  8. ^"About Robert Sapolsky: advancing our understanding of stress for decades". Stanford University. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  9. ^"Transcript of How I Write Conversation with Robert Sapolsky". Stanford University. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  10. ^"Stanford Univ. detail of Prof. Sapolsky". Retrieved 2007-07-27 
  11. ^Sapolsky, Robert M (1990). "Stress in the Wild". Scientific American. 262: 106–113. 
  12. ^"The Brain on the Stand," New York Times Magazine
  13. ^Sapolsky, RM (2004). "The frontal cortex and the criminal justice system". Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 359 (1451): 1787–96. doi:10.1098/rstb.2004.1547. PMC 1693445. PMID 15590619. 
  14. ^"Stress: Portrait of a Killer". Stress: Portrait of a Killer. Stanford University, National Geographic. 2008. Retrieved 25 Aug 2014. 
  15. ^Brown, Patricia Leigh (19 Apr 2001). "AT HOME WITH: DR. ROBERT M. SAPOLSKY; Family Man With a Foot In the Veld". The New York Times. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. Retrieved 25 Aug 2014. 
  16. ^Angier, Natalie (13 Apr 2004). "No Time for Bullies: Baboons Retool Their Culture". New York Times Archives. New York Times Company. Retrieved 5 Aug 2014. 
  17. ^Lehrer, Jonah (28 Jul 2010). "Under Pressure: The Search for a Stress Vaccine". Wired Magazine. Retrieved 25 Aug 2014. 
  18. ^Vaughan, Christopher (Nov–Dec 2001). "Going Wild". Stanford University Magazine. Stanford University. Retrieved 25 Aug 2014. 
  19. ^"MacArthur Fellows List - July 1987". Archived from the original on 2008-04-19. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  20. ^"About AAAS: John McGovern Lecture". Retrieved 22 Feb 2009. 
  21. ^"Sagan Prize Recipients". 2011. Retrieved September 10, 2011. 
  22. ^"Honorary FFRF Board Announced". Archived from the original on December 17, 2010. Retrieved February 15, 2010. 
  23. ^"Emperor Has No Clothes Award -- Robert Sapolsky". Freedom From Religion Foundation. Retrieved 7 December 2013.