TIME Innovation

Don’t Let Ukraine Become the Next Greece

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Don’t let Ukraine become the next Greece.

By Philip Zelikow in RealClearPolitics

2. The Web that could spark revolutions and free people is dying.

By Hossein Derakhshan in Matter

3. Fracking produces millions of gallons of polluted water every day. One company figured out how to clean it.

By Rob Matheson at the MIT News Office

4. Find out why one school district is buying body cameras — for principals.

By Mackenzie Ryan in the Des Moines Register

5. Listen to what women say, not how they say it.

By Ann Friedman in the Cut

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

How Student Loans Make College More Expensive

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Cheap student loans are helping colleges boost tuition costs. Find out how.

By Bob Sullivan in Money

2. Americans are living longer. That’s not a good thing.

By Michael Grunwald in Politico

3. Subject to whim and shrouded in mystery, America’s prison parole system must be reformed.

By Beth Schwartzapfel in the Marshall Project

4. This needle-free Ebola vaccine could change everything.

By Anna Almendrala in the Huffington Post

5. Food powder from expired produce could feed the world’s hungry.

By Kathleen Wong in Mashable

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

How One Video Game Cut Down Online Harassment

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. See how the world’s most popular video game slashed online harassment 40 percent.

By Jack Smith IV in Mic

2. Bananas are doomed. Can we genetically modify their salvation?

By Mark Hay in Good

3. One Baltimore spot is marking Restaurant Week by closing to the public and feeding the homeless instead.

By Vicky Gan in CityLab

4. Unglamorous peacebuilding — not military might — is the only way to beat ISIS.

By David Alpher at George Mason University

5. Find out how activist investors are shorting America’s future to make big profits now.

By William Budinger in Democracy Journal

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

See How Surgeons Can Mend a Broken Heart Using 3D Body Scans

“It’s like opening the chest and seeing the heart beating”

GE Healthcare has released new footage from its three dimensional body scanners, marking its latest attempt to tap into the $32 billion heart failure market and potentially spare patients from invasive surgical procedures.

The software, dubbed cSound, processes a geyser of image data from an ultrasound, wolfing down the information equivalent of one DVD every second.

The real innovation, however, is not the number of pixels the software can lap up, but the pixels it carefully selects to put on display. Image scrubbing algorithms work over the picture like an automated airbrush, making shadows deeper, contours crisper and generally presenting a picture that’s easier on doctors’ eyes.

“It’s like opening the chest and seeing the heart beating” said Bijoy Khandheria, a cardiologist at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, which is the first hospital to use the technology on patients.

  • As a result, a cardiologist can now peer into all four chambers of a beating heart…

    This image shows all 4 chambers of a heart. The bottom two, the atria, are enlarged. A clinician uses this to assess how well the heart muscle pumps blood into the body.
  • Or rotate the view for a glimpse into two chambers from above…

    The right and main chambers as viewed from the apex of the heart. The moving structure in the center is the mitral valve and can be identified by its fish mouth shape when open
  • Or zoom in further on the flapping leaflets of the mitral valve, which controls blood flow into the left ventricle. In this image, a bulge on the lower valve indicates a risk of heart failure.

    The bulge on the lower valve indicates a failing mitral valve. With 3D views of the heart, there are several options to repair such a failure without open heart surgery


  • They can also view their handiwork, such as these wires visibly running through the heart.

    Mending a broken heart. Literally. Thin wires were inserted into this heart to implant an artificial valve without open heart surgery



See What the Internet Actually Looks Like

Artists' visualizations show its growth over a decade

The Opte Project, an Internet mapping initiative started in 2003 by computer scientist and artist Barrett Lyon, has released its latest visualization of the ever-growing Internet.

The Internet at its core is a massive global system of interconnected computer networks. What’s mapped in the images above, Lyon explains, are the paths through which information flows from router to router all across the world. Computers from different regions of the world are mapped out by color, allowing viewers to see how regions like Latin America have experienced explosive growth in Internet connectivity.

“What you’re looking at is not a real world. You’re looking at a representation of this different dimension, so to speak,” says Lyon. “The Internet is really big, very connected and extremely complex. It’s this whole world you can’t see. That’s the fun part of visualizing it.”

The Opte Project has been on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Museum of Science in Boston.


TIME Innovation

How to Beat HIV

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. How to beat HIV.

By Erika Check Hayden in Nature

2. The Pentagon wants to remake our military to be more like the Special Forces. It shouldn’t.

By Stephen Okin in Small Wars Journal

3. Can computers replace lawyers?

By Sudhin Thanawala in the Christian Science Monitor

4. See a crime? Livestream it!

By Umesh Yadav in Economic Times

5. Two teens invented a bathroom door handle that kills bacteria.

By Ellie Kincaid in Business Insider

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

How Splitting the Euro Will Save It

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. It’s time to split the euro in two.

By Frida Ghitis at CNN

2. Can we fix our broken Congress by bringing back earmarks?

By Jonathan Allen in Vox

3. When peer pressure is a good thing.

By Philip Hoy in Zócalo Public Square

4. You can’t monetize a digital community.

By Rachel Happe in Social Media Today

5. How to build better passwords.

By Julia Angwin in ProPublica

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Science

The Molecule Behind the Golden Rule

Getty Images

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

We have this deep evolutionary system that motivates us to care about complete strangers

I want to start out by telling you about a woman that I interviewed in the San Diego County jail a couple of years ago. Let me call her Lisa. Lisa had been arrested for the 13th or 14th time for possession of methamphetamine for sale. She had served time many times. And I was part of a team that was interviewing her to understand how she had gotten to where she was and if we might help her change the course of her life.

You have to imagine this tiny little room in the county jail. We’re sitting almost knee to knee, about to have a long clinical interview. She’s in an orange jumpsuit, her hands are shackled, and there’s a guard outside the door. Slowly I start talking to her, asking her questions. “When did you first start smoking marijuana?” She said age thirteen. And then I asked, “When did you first start smoking methamphetamine?” She said age thirteen.

So what’s the natural question? “Gee, what happened to you when you were 13?”

She said, “Oh, my mom was a meth user, and she wanted to have someone to party with, so she introduced me to meth.” And then she started to cry, and she said, “And now when my mother calls me in prison to say she loves me, I can’t say it back to her.”

Breaking all appropriate clinical protocol, I said, “I don’t think you have to. Your mother did a terrible thing to you.” And indeed, Lisa had been raped because of meth, she had prostituted herself to get meth, she had married a man who was a meth user who beat her regularly, once fracturing her skull. She had two teenage children who lived in a state far from her because she couldn’t care for them. And she supported herself — though she was homeless — by selling meth.

The deeper question, then, I think, is how is it possible for a mother to do something so horrendous to her child? The trivial answer is, well, her brain was addled by drugs. But when she invited her daughter to start using meth, she was not high, right? She was sober. And she made a decision, a very bad decision.

So then the larger question, which I spent about twelve years in my life trying to understand, is why do any of us treat each other well at all, particularly when no one is looking?

I’m staying at a hotel right now and all the windows in my room are open because it’s hot. My computer is in there, all my stuff is in there. It would not be hard to just walk in there and take all my stuff, right?

Why do I have the windows open? Because I have a sense somehow that it’s safe based on the environment, the people. Earlier, I sat next to this stranger, Marissa, and we were chatting. And she didn’t look stressed out or anything, even though I’m some giant stranger.

How do we do that? How do we navigate through the sea of strangers that we all live in without having something in our brains that tells us who to be around and who not to be around, who is safe and who’s not safe? That’s what we began studying around 2001.

Oxytocin, this molecule that’s classically associated with child birth and breastfeeding, is released in all kinds of settings in which humans have positive social interactions, and it plays the role of a safety-signaling molecule. So when I see Marissa, her brain releases oxytocin, she feels safe to be around me, and now we can interact with each other.

Now, if I did something scary and crazy and weird, her stress hormones would turn on and she would immediately get away from me. Part of this story is that we have this built-in ability to come together as human beings to form relationships with people we have no direct genetic relationship to, and we can extract value from those relationships.

I want to tell you a little about how we’ve actually done this science. These field studies are fun. They show that this really works in the world that we live in.

`Maybe there’s a reason why people behave nicely even when they don’t have to. There is a rich literature in social animals showing that oxytocin allows members of the same species to identify burrow-mates. This is generally done by smell. So when I see my friend Bavindra — but I don’t really see him, I smell him, and he’s in my burrow — I think, Bavindra, he is my friend, I like him. And my brain makes oxytocin and then we can affiliate; we can huddle up for warmth or for safety.

Human beings, I thought, might do the same kind of thing. We don’t initially smell each other, but we recognize through all kinds of signals like body language that someone is safe or not safe. And we can do the same thing. We can affiliate and get all the value of relationships, except as human beings we do it very broadly.

We do it all of the time. We can’t help it. On airplanes, in meetings, all the time we see people we like, they’re friendly, and we can do projects with them or we can form friendships or romantic relationships. It’s all the same molecule. But in 2001, this was really a heterodox.

One of my colleagues actually said, “Paul, this is the world’s stupidest idea. It’s a career-ending decision.” I said, okay, maybe, but there is a big animal literature, and there must be a way to measure oxytocin in humans.

He said, “It’s irrelevant, just a female hormone,” indicating that if this is for women, it can’t be that important.

This was a guy, by the way. And I said, “Yeah, but men’s brains make oxytocin too. There must be a reason why.”

He said, “It’s just residual. You know, it’s not important.”

I said, “Well, I think I can test this, and if I can test it, then I can actually determine for men and for women or for both if oxytocin really matters.”

We decided to tempt people with virtue and vice by using money. Here’s the experiment. Let’s do it, we’ll do it right now. We’ll split the room in half. So half of you guys have $10. You guys have $10, too. You get matched up by computer. We don’t do face-to-face interactions because, since it’s a reproductive hormone, imagine if you’re sitting across from a cute guy or girl, of course you will be totally nice to them. We know that. We don’t want that confound. You’re matched by computer to somebody. You’ll have ten dollars and you’re randomly assigned in this pairing. And it says you’re first decision-maker or you’re second decision-maker. And here’s the task: If you are first decision-maker, you can give up some of your $10, ship it by computer to the other person you are matched to.

You can’t see them, you can’t talk to them, you make just one decision. Whatever you send comes out of your account and gets tripled in the other person’s account. Then the second person gets a message by computer saying, “Person 1 sent you say $15. With the $10 you got for joining the study, you now have $25. Do you want to keep it all, or send some amount back?” No one will know, you get paid in a different building. You’re totally in private.

So the standard view in economics was that if you’re Person 2, money is good. I think it’s a sort of caveman economics: “Oh, money good, me keep money.” It almost never happens in these experiments. What we see happening is that the more money someone sends you, the more money you tend to return to that person.

Person 1 has to sacrifice to make Person 2 better off. What do they expect you to do? Share the money with me, all right, and almost everybody does that. We didn’t care how people feel, we just followed the money. A kind of a Jerry Maguire approach to research: Show me the money, I’ll show you what I care about.

We did blood draws before and after, and we found that the more money you received as the second person in this transaction, the more your brain made oxytocin, and the more oxytocin your brain made, the more money you reciprocated.

This is actually really amazing. This basically blows up all standard economics, and it tells us something important about human nature: Oxytocin is the biological basis for the golden rule.

You play nice with me, I’ll play nice with you — usually. And the “usually” is where the story gets interesting, so I’ll get to that in a minute.

So we’ve done this now for hundreds of people, and in 95 percent of them, their brains make oxytocin and they reciprocate the money.

The next question we asked was, is this just a trust molecule or does it apply to a larger set of moral behaviors? I’m using the word “moral” here in an agnostic sense. I have no religious or philosophical tradition that I’m trying to support. I just mean those social behaviors that we recognize as positive: social behaviors like generosity, trustworthiness, honesty, compassion.

I’m going to study all the behaviors I can. I have a great tool now, and actually oxytocin is hard to measure and has a very short half-life — it is a quick on/off switch. Meaning, if I cause your brain to release oxytocin and you trust me, you don’t leave that switch on because you might run into some bad guy, and this guy might steal all your money.

So we had to do very rapid blood draws. Oxytocin degrades at room temperatures. You have to get the blood fast to keep them cold. So we have to work out these kinds of protocols that now everybody uses, which is great. But it wasn’t an obvious thing when we started.

And I should say lastly that the oxytocin in your blood actually reflects what’s going on in your brain because oxytocin is an evolutionarily old molecule. It actually pre-dates mammals. And we can see in humans we have many more receptors — particularly in the front of the brain — for oxytocin. We’re kind of hyper-social. We are social with people we don’t even know, and it’s because we’re much more sensitive to oxytocin.

We studied that by just changing these tasks over and over and over until we could figure out when this effect kicked in and when it didn’t. In addition, because nothing in the brain or the body happens in isolation, we wanted to make sure that we could actually show a direct causal relationship between oxytocin and these moral behaviors.

We did that by manipulating the oxytocin system. We took these really big drills and we drilled into people… No, we didn’t do that. Instead, we developed this nasal inhaler with which you can spray oxytocin in your brain, it will actually go in your sinuses and kind of leak into brain after about an hour. And it turns out that when you give people intranasal oxytocin, we can turn on moral behaviors like opening up a garden hose. They just spurt out.

People know what they’re doing with others, they just don’t care as much about their own welfare and care more about others. So I think oxytocin is this little molecule that evolved in mammals to motivate care for offspring, and when your brain releases oxytocin, it’s signaling that I’m a member of your family. So it causes us to treat strangers like family, and that’s really beautiful.

We have this deep evolutionary system that motivates us to care about complete strangers.

One of the questions that we asked was, what is the feeling that people have when their brains make oxytocin? Could you tell your brain was making it? The short answer is no, but let me tell you how we discovered it. I had a graduate student in my lab, now a faculty member at Claremont, who’s a social psychologist. He said that in social psychology, we use all kind of things like videos to try to change people’s social states. I wonder if it changes people’s physiologic states, too?

Well, I’m not so keen on that because I don’t want to rely on people telling me how they feel. I’m more interested in behavior. Anyway, he presented this little video that he got from St. Jude Children’s Hospital about a little boy with cancer, and the video runs 100 seconds. I’m not going to play it for you today because the last time I played was at a law conference at UCLA, and several lawyers actually cried when they saw it, and you guys are aware lawyers don’t have souls, right?

So, you nice people would definitely cry, too. It’s quite sad and it’s actually a real case. The little boy’s name is Ben and he died of terminal brain cancer. So it’s emotional, and we took blood before and after and people watched this video and then did these same share-the-money tasks. What we found was that the more oxytocin your brain made, the more empathic you felt towards Ben and his father; you felt emotionally connected to them. So that’s really interesting. And, people who watched the video were generous towards others and to a childhood cancer charity.

So now we have this underlying psychological mechanism that the physiology induces. For example, it’s not that I don’t want to steal Bavindra’s phone — I really do — it’s just that I’m going to feel bad if I do that. And then he’ll feel bad. If I’m a social creature, and if I have any sense of empathy, I’m going to feel bad because he feels bad and then that feeling makes me not want to steal from him.

I think that’s the same reason why in our studies people donate money to childhood cancer charity. When people’s brains release oxytocin, they’re giving up their money — even though we’re torturing them with needles and all kinds of things, they’re giving their money to the childhood cancer charity, not because they can fix Ben, but because they feel terrible that a child was suffering. Again this is a really beautiful thing about human beings — that we care about people at a distance. It’s not just the face-to-face interactions; it’s really the connection to the entire human family.

So why are people moral? What’s the punch line? We can think of three ideas. One is that we’re moral because God made us that way. So as a scientist, I don’t know if God exists or not, it’s not my place to say that; if that works, fine. I’m just not going to go there. Well, we’re going to go halfway there — I’ll tell you about that later.

The second is the government is watching us. Big Brother is here. There must be cameras in this room somewhere, we’re all being recorded, the NSA knows everything we’re doing. I can’t cheat because I’ll get caught, right? Well, these experiments give people a lot of privacy, you can do whatever you want to do, and honestly there are all kinds of situations we’re in which no one knows what we’re doing.

And the last idea is that, as social creatures, we actually care about what the other humans think about us. You know, we say we don’t, but of course we do. And this idea actually is quite old and traces back to Adam Smith, who you guys may remember from Econ 101. He wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776. It turns out The Wealth of Nations was his second-best book. His best book was written 17 years earlier. It was called a The Theory of Moral Sentiments. It turns out Smith was a moral philosopher, and he was a kind of a nobody in Scotland — no one heard about him. He writes this book in 1759, and Smith becomes an absolute rock star in Europe.

He’s having dinner with the king of France, he’s hanging out with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin. He developed the first fully terrestrial theory of why people are moral, and he said, “Why are we moral?” Because we have what he called “fellow feeling.” If I do something to hurt somebody, I share that emotion. Since I don’t like pain, I avoid doing those things.

If I do something that brings you joy, I get to share that joy. I like doing that. So most of the time, I’m going to behave in a way that keeps me embedded in the social fabric in which I am. So why is this Smith’s best book? Because he revised The Wealth of Nations three times, he revised The Theory of Moral Sentiments six times, including on his deathbed. He thought it was his more important work.

We have this sense of emotional connection to others which works as sort of a moral compass. It doesn’t always work, and that’s the second half of this lecture.

It doesn’t always work, and when it doesn’t work, the neuroscience is really interesting on what shuts down morality. Smith was doing this by intuition and casual observation of people. But now we can run experiments to ask what inhibits this response, what promotes this response.

But I think he was mostly right. So we can’t help but feel empathy when we see the dog, the homeless person, the child with cancer, and that motivates us to do things that improve our social standing, that make us better human beings, that motivate us to serve others which is just amazing to me. And now we know why.

I want to give you a cautionary note on how not to improve society from a moral perspective. When we first published the research for the oxytocin inhaler, the media frenzy was enormous and overwhelming and mostly wrong. We used synthetic oxytocin, a drug, to show the direct causal relationship between oxytocin and positive social behaviors. We spent most of our time in the intervening six or seven years working on the large variety of situations that causes your brain to make its own oxytocin, and how that affects your behavior. Synthetic oxytocin administration is not the way to improve society.

That’s what I really want to talk about. That’s where the rubber hits the road. Everyone isn’t nice all the time. Why is that? That’s what we started investigating. It turns out that there’s a larger brain circuit that oxytocin activates which I call the HOME circuit, Human Oxytocin-Mediated Empathy circuit, and this circuit utilizes oxytocin and two other neuro-chemicals.

I’ll spend thirty seconds on this because it’s important. One is called dopamine, which is this reinforcement-learning chemical. So when we do something that’s nice, say, I hold the door for Ken and he says “thank you,” our brain makes a little oxytocin and it releases this little reinforcement chemical that says, “Oh, that’s nice. Apparently he must like it when you do that, you should keep doing that.”

We learn from an early age that these are the important behaviors that help sustain us in the community of humans. Second, oxytocin facilitates the release of serotonin, a neuro-chemical you all have heard about. When you have more serotonin, you have an improvement in mood and reduction in anxiety.

So social interactions change body states. So it actually feels good to do good for others.

Given that, the question is what inhibits activity in the circuit, and what promotes activity?

The first is something that you all have experienced, which is high levels of stress. When you’re super-stressed out, you are not your best self, right? You’re grumpy, you’re cranky, you’re not nice to people.

Then what do you have to do the next day? You’ve got to go to your spouse, to your work colleagues or whatever, you say, “I was such a jerk yesterday, I’m sorry.” “I was having a bad day, I got in a car accident and my dog died.” Whatever it is, we understand that. We can have a bad day, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, you’re just having a bad day.

So high levels of stress inhibit the release of oxytocin, and we become less focused on others and more on ourselves. We’re in survival mode. It turns out that moderate levels of stress increase oxytocin release. So for all the single folks out there, for your first date, I recommend riding a roller coaster, tandem skydiving, or bungee jumping. You have this big arousal response and you really want to now be with this person. Or just flying out of the Aspen Airport, I think that will do it, too.

So high stress is one inhibitor. The second inhibitor for oxytocin is the most important chemical for half the people in this audience, which is testosterone. When we administer testosterone to men and compared their behavior to themselves on placebo, men on testosterone are more selfish and more entitled.

For those of you with teenage boys at home, this is not news to you. Why is that testosterone focuses our brain on ourselves? It’s like your brain whispering to you, you have the best genes on the planet, you’re a little god, everyone should bow down in front of you. Now, this is not only valuable for people with teenage boys at home — it turns out that if you win a chess match, your testosterone goes up.

If you do anything challenging, your testosterone goes up. Testosterone goes up both in men and women. It turns out that in men it’s about ten times higher than in women, so the effect is more egregious. But for both sexes, testosterone increases make interactions all about you.

You are the center of attention. By the way, what happens when you speak in public? Your testosterone goes up. So I’m sorry, I’ll try to be more empathic later. So we know a lot about how this system works. We also know that for every study we’ve done in twelve years, on average women release more oxytocin than men. Again, not surprising. Women are nicer than men, we know that. Except when they’re not. Now you know why.

So it turns out that estrogen primes the brain to be more sensitive to oxytocin. And it turns out that progesterone inhibits this response. So it puts on a little brake.

Women are nicer than men but also more complicated.

We also looked at developmental factors that affect oxytocin. Animals that are abused or neglected, not cared for by the mother, have fewer oxytocin receptors, particularly in the front of the brain, which is part of the feel-good circuit.

We studied women who have terrible life histories, who as children were repeatedly sexually abused. So really long-term sexual abuse. We find about half of them don’t have a functional oxytocin system. And they’re socially withdrawn, they are clinically depressed, they have a lot of difficult issues.

On the other hand, the other half was resilient against that abuse, and it didn’t depend on the length of abuse, the extent of the abuse. So the oxytocin system seems fairly robust to moderate amounts of abuse, although all abuse is bad for sure. This system is mostly protected, but enough abuse shuts this system down. By the way, we talked about methamphetamine earlier. Stimulants, like methamphetamine and cocaine, also damage oxytocin receptors. This may be one reason stimulant addicts become socially withdrawn.

I said earlier that 95 percent of people we have tested in a variety of situations release oxytocin in the appropriate way and reciprocate, but 5 percent don’t. Who are the 5 percent? About half of those are people who are just having a really bad day. They are stressed out, but otherwise they are okay people.

The other half have all the attributes of psychopaths.

Last summer my lab and I spent two weeks in the cornfields of Wisconsin at a treatment center for criminal psychopaths. And we took blood from a 161 of these wonderful human beings, all men, and we found that on average when they watched that cancer kid video that makes lawyers cry, nothing. They don’t produce oxytocin. One hallmark of psychopathology is a lack of empathy. It’s not that these individuals are necessarily planning to hurt others. They just don’t care. They see individuals as a tools to an end. They’re going to use you for sex or for drugs or for money. You’re just a hurdle they have to jump over. They just don’t have the same feeling that we do. So they’re dangerous. I recommend you avoid them. Not good people to be around. It’s 2 percent of the free roaming population; it’s around 40 percent of prison population.

But 2 percent isn’t bad, right? Three percent of people are having bad days, and 95 percent are releasing oxytocin and behaving quite nicely. Most of the time, for most people, the system works pretty well. But how do we really know it works well? I’m going to show you some experiments we’ve done around the world in different populations, not just in North America or Europe, and also what I think one of the interesting legal implications, a defense against criminal responsibility.

Let me tell you about a case of a gentleman named Hans Reiser. Reiser was a rising star in the Internet world in Silicon Valley. He started a couple of companies. One of those hit big. He’s married. They have a little child together, a little girl. And at some point, his wife decided she is going to divorce Reiser. And then what happens?

She goes missing. You wonder how that happened, right? It’s always the spouse. You guys know that, you’ve seen all the crime shows, you’ve seen the data, particularly when a woman dies. About 90 percent of the time it’s the spouse. So Reiser is arrested, but they have not found the body. He goes to trial and by the last day of the trial, it’s clear that he’s going to get convicted, and he’s up for the death penalty. So he agrees to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty. He’ll get life in prison if he shows them where the body is.

They go to the Berkeley hills, and he shows them where he dumped her body. He’s in jail for life in San Quentin. After a year at San Quentin, he writes a four-page handwritten appeal in pencil to the governor of California requesting a new trial, citing my research, claiming that his lawyer had what I’ve called oxytocin deficit disorder, ODD. He’s saying his lawyer was a psychopath. Think of the irony of this. Reiser is clearly a psychopath and he’s claiming his lawyer couldn’t represent him fully because his lawyer wasn’t empathic enough.

So that appeal was turned down. I didn’t get to be on the stand as an expert witness (yet). But this is coming, and I think that’s a conversation we need to have as a society.

If my genes made me do it, if my lack of oxytocin made me do it, am I fully responsible for that act? I don’t know.

I’m going to conclude with what you can do with this information. As I started writing my book The Moral Molecule, I spent a bunch of time thinking about why I spent ten years of my life trying to understand morality.

It started out with work I had done on cross-country levels of trust which are predictive of countries’ levels of prosperity. High-trust countries have more social interactions. More social interactions lead to more economic transactions that create wealth that sustains prosperity. The highest trust countries in the world, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, are very homogenous and have good governments. There is almost no social strife. Everything works well in these societies. So trust is a very good measure of a well-functioning society. That’s the dishonest answer about why I studied oxytocin.

Once I understood trust at the country level, then I wanted to understand it at the individual level. But I started writing the book, and I realized that I had another motivation for this, and it was driven by this woman, Sister Mary Maris Stella, also known as…my mother.

My mother was a former Catholic nun. And when I was a child, mom was the ultimate moral authority in our house because she was trained and we were not. You know, the white glove test: dust in your room, you could be going to hell. So mom was a little experimenter with her family, and God bless her, she just passed away about a year ago. But as I got older, I thought, why does mom know best, or why is promoting a top-down morality? Why do some words in a book apply to me?

Why isn’t there a ground-up morality? Why don’t we know what morality is? So I rejected her views, and because of that, in our experiments, we asked the most simple questions about people’s religious beliefs, but basically I didn’t want to touch this issues, it’s the third rail of science. We just asked things like “Do you believe in God?,” “Do you pray?,” “Do you go to church?” None of that really mattered for the experiments, it didn’t affect oxytocin, and it didn’t affect people’s behavior. We just ignored it.

And as I was writing the book, I thought to myself, you should actually address this issue. So we got permission to actually go into churches and take blood before and after religious services, everything from Buddhist to Quakers to Protestants. And we went to different rituals that have the aspects of religious services, but aren’t religious at all.

We had soldiers march around our lab for fifteen minutes and took their blood. We went to folk dances and took blood before and after people danced. And we found in all these situations that a majority of people would release oxytocin, and when they did that, they felt closer to the communities they were in. We did not find that the release of oxytocin changed their sense of connection to God or some ultimate reality.

We used lots of different words to get at this issue. So whatever that feeling comes from, it doesn’t seem to be an oxytocin effect; it’s driven by something else. But I still think that these rituals, just like weddings, are important because they connect us to communities.

So this story I’ve told to you sounds like a kind of human universal, and this work has been replicated now by lots and lots of labs. And we can talk about all the details of the studies if you want, but one question that also nagged me was, is it really universal? Because honestly we did these studies first on college students in the U.S. and in Europe. Then we did free roaming humans. We found in all the same response.

But what about as far away from the developed world as we can get? So to address that question, I flew for thirty hours to the highlands of Papua New Guinea, which is a rainforest. There are 700 distinct languages in Papua New Guinea. It’s the Stone Age there. No running water, no electricity, no bathrooms. I was embedded in a village for a week and took blood before and after an ancient war dance was done by indigenous tribe members. It was really an amazing and life-changing experience. This tribe, it’s about 1,000 people. They live in huts. They live way in the highlands, too far from any markets to grow cash crops. They trade pigs for brides.

It’s really an amazing place in many ways. None of these men had ever been to a doctor or dentist in their life, so they had never seen their blood drawn. So it was an interesting experience for them.

So we had them do the dance. We did a baseline blood draw, had them do their dance for twenty minutes, and then took their blood again. These people are pretty healthy. They’re vegetarian. They do do drugs because they’ve got a lot of spare time. So they smoke pot which, you know, not surprising for you guys in Colorado, and they also use an indigenous drug called betel nut which stains their gums red. It’s a euphoric, and so some of them are kind of spaced out.

Anyway, what we found is that just like in all the other rituals we studied, a majority of men who danced in this ritual released oxytocin, and when they released oxytocin, they felt more connected to the community, they said they were more willing to volunteer to help their community. For example, they are subsistence farmers. They just grow roots, tubers, broccoli, and collect nuts. The people who are addicted to betel nut don’t tend their plots.

What happens to the drug users? Do they starve? I mean, what happens to their plots? They said, “Ah, no, we just take care of it for them. There’s this real sense of community in which if you’re not able to feed yourself, we’ll just take care of you, no big deal.”

So it looks like oxytocin is a universal factor in promoting morality. A moral molecule. The Papua New Guinea experiment was so compelling for me because if you remember this old saying from World War II, FUBAR, this is the FUBAR experiment. Everything went wrong. The liquid nitrogen evaporated on the flight. It was gone. The generators, the voltage was wrong, that didn’t work. We had all these things set up. We had an anthropologist who had to work with this tribe, who had arranged all this. We had gotten permission from the government. Their government, our government, lots of permissions. It took two years to do this. And you’re exhausted, and you get there, and you can do nothing.

So I’m in the village. People are sitting around the hillsides kind of watching the show, the weird white people with cameras coming in. And there’s nothing I could do. The crew was trying to work on getting more liquid nitrogen. In fact, I was so freaked out the camera crew told me, “We do this for a living, you need a break, just take a break.” So I sit down on the grass. People start coming over, looking at me, and in Papua New Guinea, they’re very touchy, they like to touch your hands. And I’m thinking, oh my God, I have to eat with these hands, like, we’ve brought all our own food. Where’s the Purell? Oh my gosh, the body odor is powerful.

And then the little children came up to me, and they started looking at me and I started making faces at them. I don’t speak in this language at all of course. I started making faces, I started playing with them. All of a sudden, we were laughing, we were having fun, and I just relaxed and enjoyed this wonderful opportunity to be in people’s homes.

Amazing people. And I felt so close to my village. So when I got ready to leave with our blood samples, with more liquid nitrogen coming in from Tokyo, we have to get down the mountain and get these things back to LA. And the chief who’s got a fifth grade education says, “Stop, you need to sit down, we have gifts for you.” So I sat down. And the film crew sat down.

These people have nothing. They have no money at all and they made me this beautiful hand-spade, and the chief had someone translate into English a little note that said “In our village, all leaders have hand-spades to till their fields to feed their people, and we thought you needed a hand-spade.” Isn’t this amazing? That’s amazing.

So how stupid are we if we can’t connect to the people around us where we speak the same language, we’re in the same culture, and yet we go around the world and we’re connecting to people who are in some sense totally different than us and another sense, completely the same as us. They have the same things, they love their kids, they want to have a good life. They want to be healthy, they want to enjoy themselves.

We have this sense of morality or appropriate social behaviors, and one of those is trust. As I said earlier, we showed that trust is a big engine for prosperity at the level of countries, and when prosperity is higher, if that wealth is shared equally enough, it means we’re reducing poverty, which reduces the stress people have, which gives them the luxury of releasing more oxytocin, increasing morality.

If prediction by the neuroscience were true, we should see evidence for it.

When we look at cross-country data, we find measures tolerance for people who are different than ourselves increases with income. We find that happiness levels increase with income.

And we recently looked at this in individuals — those who release more oxytocin are more satisfied with their lives. Why? Because they have high quality relationships of all types — romantic, with friends, with family, and even with strangers.

I want to tell you what happened to Lisa, the prisoner. Lisa was either going to serve a three-year jail term for her sentence or do a — a three-year jail term usually is a year-and-a-half for good behavior. So it’s a year-and-a-half in jail or a year-and-a-half in lockdown rehab. And through a series of interviews she was eligible to do a year of lockdown rehab. She learned about drug use. She learned how to stay away from the cues that motivate drug use.

Her goal was to get out of San Diego, where she had been sucked into this drug lifestyle, and move to the state where her children lived. And she indeed did that. The last I heard from her, she had rented an apartment in the same city in which her children lived with her aunt and uncle. And she was beginning to rebuild her relationship with her children. She wasn’t able to care for them yet, but at least she started to rebuild that relationship. And the last note she sent me, she said she had not contacted her mother.

So what’s the take-home? Oxytocin is sometimes called the love molecule. It makes us care about our offspring, our romantic partners. My lab showed that it also makes us care about complete strangers. And we looked at lots of ways we could cause oxytocin release, and one of those was touch. In rodents, if you stroke the belly, you can cause the release of oxytocin. I thought, oh, that’s a good experiment. You’ll come in, I’ll rub your belly and then… That’s kind of weird, right? So I thought, maybe I can do an experiment where you come in and have all the participants hug each other for like ten minutes.

So what’s wrong with that experiment? First of all, I get sued because someone gets their butt grabbed, and that’s not good, and also it’s just creepy, right? So instead we thought, who gets to touch you who you don’t know? Your doctor. Your hairstylist. Your massage therapist.

So we did this study at UCLA, and this was the easiest recruiting of a study we’d ever done. You came in, you get a blood draw, you get ten minutes professional massage therapy, another blood draw, then do a “share the money” task. We found, indeed, that touch released oxytocin and made people much more generous towards strangers. So I thought, how do I apply this to my own life?

I decided some years ago to refuse to shake hands with people and begin to hug everybody. So the students in my lab like to tease me, and they starting saying you’re Dr. Love now, you’re hugging people. Whatever. Anyway I had a reporter come down a couple of years ago from Fast Companymagazine. He wanted to interview me, be in some experiments. It’s always kind of weird when reporters come out because I don’t really know what they want from me and why they’re there and — anyway, he’s getting ready to go, so I said, “Before you go I’m going to give you a hug because I’m the oxytocin guy and I’m all about connection.”

So he titles his article “Introducing Dr. Love.” So I’m outed now as Dr. Love. At first I was kind of unhappy, I’m a serious scientist, I do this work every day. It’s hard, you know, we spend a lot of money on experiments. We work hard to do this work right.

But then when I thought about it, I thought, what a great thing he gave me. I get to go places and talk about love.

Love is a biological reality. Your brain is designed for love. We need love. It’s super important to us. We’ve shown that touch not only increases oxytocin, it reduces stress hormones and improves the immune system. So we need those social relationships. So I encourage you to embrace the “L” word, tell the people around you that you love them.

Even at work, I encourage people to say “love.” It just means I’m interested in you as a human being. I care about what happens to you. And generally people will reciprocate and care about what happens to you as well.

That’s how oxytocin works. I can’t force you to love me, I can only give you love. In the same way, I can’t make my brain make its own oxytocin, but I can give you the gift of oxytocin by, for example, giving you a hug, and you will generally reciprocate. You might even try to use the “L” word.

This article was originally published by The Aspen Institute on Medium

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

These Are the 3 Most Important Trends of the Next Decade

The cable cars in use in the city slums in Medellin, Colombia on January 5, 2013.
Kaveh Kazemi—Getty Images The cable cars in use in the city slums in Medellin, Colombia on January 5, 2013.

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

We can’t continue to delude ourselves that things will get back to “normal” someday

Ten years ago, who would have predicted the rise of the sharing economy, the omnipresence of social media, or that selfies would take the world by storm? And given the rapid pace of change our world continues to experience, it is almost impossible to predict what our world will look like in 2024.

But that was our mission of sorts at this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, which was celebrating its 10 years of thought-provoking, and world-changing, discussions.

In a conversation with the Washington Post’s Phillip Kennicott, I made the case for why building resilience is among the most important priorities of our lifetime, provoked by the three trends I believe will most shape the world for the next decade:

The first is the rapid, astonishing pace of urbanization. With a global population headed towards 9 billion by mid-century, people will be mostly located in cities, in increasingly fragile ecosystems.

The second is climate change, which, over the past decade, has emerged as an undeniable threat to cities, institutions, and businesses. For example, hot weather kills more Americans than all other natural disasters combined, and experts predict that summer heat waves will only worsen, leading to even more illnesses and deaths.

The third trend is globalization. Vulnerability in one place leads to vulnerability in another. Economic shocks and infectious diseases travel quickly, without mind for man-made borders. This will only continue to intensify.

These three factors form a crucial social-ecological-economic nexus, one that has huge—and, frankly, frightening—implications, especially for cities. The shocks and disruptions we experience today, like floods, wildfires, acts of terror, and pandemics, will only get more frequent, more intense, and more dangerous for more people. At the same time, cities also must confront chronic stresses, like crime, which develop more slowly than shocks but are equally devastating over time.

We can’t continue to delude ourselves that things will get back to “normal” someday. They won’t. It’s a losing game to continue to devote our resources to recovering from disasters that, by now, we should know to expect.

And it’s not just about keeping bad things out. Resilience ensures that a city —or other entity—can continue to operate at its highest function on its best and its worst days. It’s a lever for unlocking greater economic development and business investment, as well as improved social services and more broadly shared prosperity.

This is what I call “the resilience dividend.” It has two components:

  • First, it’s the difference between how disruptive a shock or stress might be to a city that has made resilience investments, compared to the degree of disruption the same city would face if it hadn’t invested in building its resilience.
  • Second, it’s the package of co-benefits that investing in resilience can yield to a city—job creation, economic opportunity, social cohesion, and equity, to name a few.

Let me offer an example from my book, The Resilience Dividend, to be released this November.

You may know that Medellin, Colombia was once the most dangerous city in Latin America. For decades it was trapped in a downward spiral of violence and poverty, amid daily tragedies of murder, corruption, drugs, absence of services, and economic disparity.

In the 1990s, the city began to test new ideas and investments to create more resilient communities. One such focus was on mobility and transportation, ensuring that its most vulnerable and impacted communities were better integrated into the fabric of this city, with real access to work and to a variety of services including community centers, public art, health care facilities, and schools. To do this, they developed the first urban “cable car,” or gondola lift, which connects to the city’s subway system. They also built an escalator system climbing the hill to isolated communities, cutting the walk time from the hillside to the economic center of the city from about thirty minutes to about six.

These systems also serve a crucial function as an evacuation route in times of disaster, such as a mudslide or an earthquake, but are also integrated the poorest and most isolated communities into the city center, which has helped to cut down on crime.

Medellin is just one of many cities around the world working to build resilience.

Indeed, last year, The Rockefeller Foundation launched our largest resilience effort yet—100 Resilient Cities, a $100 million initiative to help 100 cities around the world increase their resilience to shocks and stresses, leveraging public finance and the resources of the private sector.

Thirty-two cities have been named so far, with the next group to come later this year: The competition for the second round opens to cities on July 23rd. The cities receive four types of support:

First, support to hire and empower a city Chief Resilience Officer, or CRO, a central point of contact within each city to coordinate, oversee and prioritize resilience activities.

Second, cities receive support to develop a resilience strategy that analyzes and mitigates their vulnerabilities and build on their unique strengths.

Third, cities in this network have access to a platform of services leveraging resources significantly beyond our own to support solutions that integrate big data analytics, technology, resilience land use planning, infrastructure design, and new financing and insurance products.

And fourth, cities become members of the 100 Resilient Cities Network, a peer-to-peer network that shares new knowledge and resilience best practices and fosters new connections and partnerships.

We believe that by creating a market for resilience products and services in 100 cities, more civil society and governments, and more private sector companies, will be incentivized to push the limits of technology and innovation, which will benefit all cities.

For example, exciting resilience innovations have come out of the 3-D printing revolution. In New York Harbor, we are rebuilding after Sandy with a new system to create pilings to replace the aging and cracking ones that support the city’s docks and piers. They’re produced by a massive 3-D printer using “digital concrete,” a new material that is more resilient because it is more flexible, adaptive and strong—and far more cost-effective to build.

That’s just one example of the kind of resilience service helping cities get an economic leg up while better preparing for what’s next. A community that takes advantage of these innovations can deliver incredible benefits for all its citizens, including its poorest and most vulnerable members—not only in times of distress, but each and every day.

Whether the next shock hits today or in 2024, the resilience dividend can help cities to survive, and even thrive, despite the shocks that come their way. The next ten years will see more of what were thought to be only 100-year occurrences.

This article was originally published by The Aspen Institute on Medium

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

We Should Fear the Glitch That Took Down the NYSE

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Here is why we should fear the glitch that took down the NYSE.

By Zeynep Tufekci in the Message

2. Can we keep juvenile offenders out of jail by teaching them how to read emotions?

By Kelly Hubble, Katharine L. Bowen, Simon C. Moore, Stephanie H.M. van Goozen in PLOS ONE

3. To fight the wildfires that plague the west, loggers are helping hack forests.

By Elizabeth Harball and ClimateWire in Scientific American

4. It’s time to short coal.

By Carl Pope in Bloomberg View

5. On the brink of radicalization, Tunisia’s youth need a jobs program.

By Alexander Martin in the Conversation

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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