Robert Sapolsky

Robert Sapolsky: Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers | April 24, 2014

The EWU President's Forum for Critical Thought is a lecture series presented by the Daniel and Margaret Carper Foundation.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

Thursday, April 24, 2014
1 p.m., Hargreaves Hall, Walter and Myrtle Powers Reading Room
7 p.m., Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, Spokane

As a boy in New York City, Robert Sapolsky, PhD, dreamed of living inside the African dioramas in the Museum of Natural History. By the age of 21, he made it to Africa and joined a troop of baboons. He chose to live with the baboons because they are perfect for learning about stress and stress-related diseases in humans.

Sapolsky is a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, and a research associate with the Institute of Primate Research at the National Museum of Kenya. In 2008, National Geographic and PBS aired an hour-long special on stress featuring Sapolsky and his research on the subject.

The problem for people, as Sapolsky explains in his book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, is that our bodies' stress response evolved to help us get out of short-term physical emergencies-if a lion is chasing you, you run. But such reactions, he points out, compromise long-term physical health in favor of immediate self-preservation. Unfortunately, when confronted with purely psychological stressors, such as troubleshooting the fax machine, modern humans turn on the same stress response. "If you turn it on for too long," notes Sapolsky, "you get sick."  Sapolsky regards this sobering news with characteristic good humor, finding hope in “our own capacity to prevent some of these problems…in the small steps with which we live our everyday lives.”

In addition to Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Sapolsky has written three other books, including The Trouble with Testosterone, A Primate’s Memoir and Monkeyluv and Other Essays on our Lives as Animals.

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