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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.[3]

Robert Sapolsky
Robert Sapolsky-edited.jpg
Sapolsky in 2009
Born (1957-04-06) April 6, 1957 (age 61)
ResidenceUnited States
EducationHarvard University (B.A.)
Rockefeller University (Ph.D.)
Scientific career
FieldsNeurobiology, physiology[1], biological anthropology
InstitutionsStanford University
ThesisThe neuroendocrinology of stress and aging (1984)
Doctoral advisorBruce McEwen
Other academic advisorsMelvin Konner[2]


Early life and educationEdit

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.[4] 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.[5]

Sapolsky describes himself as an atheist.[6][7] 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."[8]

In 1978, Sapolsky received his B.A. in biological anthropology summa cum laude from Harvard University.[9] He then went to Kenya to study the social behaviors of baboons in the wild, after which he returned to New York and studied at Rockefeller University, where he received his Ph.D. in neuroendocrinology working in the lab of endocrinologist Bruce 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.[10]


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.[11]

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".[12] He has also written about neurological impairment and the insanity defense within the American legal system.[13][14]

Sapolsky's work has been featured widely in the press, most notably in the National Geographic documentary Stress: Portrait of a Killer,[15] articles in The New York Times,[16][17] Wired Magazine[18] and the Stanford University Magazine.[19] His unique speaking style as heard on Radiolab[20] and Joe Rogan[21], and his Stanford Human Behavioural Biology lectures (still circulated despite its 2011-era neuroscience) have garnered his otherwise serious topics attention, and even adulation. His now-dormant Twitter account prof. Robot Sapolsky was devoted to deadpan science quotes, the last of which is dated 3 Jan 2016. Sapolsky's specialising in primatology and neuroscience has made him pivotal in the public discussion of mental health—and, more broadly, human relationships—from an evolutionary context.[22][23]

Sapolsky has received numerous honors and awards for his work, including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship Genius Grant in 1987,[24] an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and the Klingenstein Fellowship in Neuroscience. He was also awarded the National Science Foundation Presidential 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.[25]

In 2008 he received Wonderfest's Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization.[26] In February 2010 Sapolsky was named to the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Honorary Board of distinguished achievers,[27] following the earlier Emperor Has No Clothes Award for year 2002.[28]

See alsoEdit



  • 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 coursesEdit


  1. ^ "Robert Sapolsky at Stanford".
  2. ^ Hanson, E. Simon (January 5, 2001). "A Conversation With Robert Sapolsky". Brain Connection. Retrieved 3 June 2014. BC: Who were your greatest mentors? RS: Of people I've actually dealt with, ... the main person is an anthropologist/physician named Melvin Konnor ... . He ... was my advisor in college and remains a major mentor.
  3. ^ "Robert Sapolsky". Retrieved 22 Feb 2009.
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ Vaughan, Christopher. "Going Wild A biologist gets in touch with his inner primate". Stanford Magazine. Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  6. ^ Shwartz, Mark (March 7, 2007). "Robert Sapolsky discusses physiological effects of stress". News. Stanford University. Retrieved October 13, 2012.
  7. ^ "Professor Sapolsky Explains the Origin of Religion Part 1/2".
  8. ^ Sapolsky, Robert (April 2003). "Belief and Biology". Freedom from Religion Foundation.
  9. ^ "About Robert Sapolsky: advancing our understanding of stress for decades". Stanford University. Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  10. ^ "Transcript of How I Write Conversation with Robert Sapolsky". Stanford University. Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  11. ^ "Stanford Univ. detail of Prof. Sapolsky". Retrieved 2007-07-27
  12. ^ Sapolsky, Robert M (1990). "Stress in the Wild". Scientific American. 262 (1): 106–13. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0190-116. JSTOR 24996650. PMID 2294581.
  13. ^ "The Brain on the Stand," New York Times Magazine
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "Stress: Portrait of a Killer". Stress: Portrait of a Killer. Stanford University, National Geographic. 2008. Archived from the original on 2016-03-17. Retrieved 25 Aug 2014.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Lehrer, Jonah (28 Jul 2010). "Under Pressure: The Search for a Stress Vaccine". Wired Magazine. Retrieved 25 Aug 2014.
  19. ^ Vaughan, Christopher (Nov–Dec 2001). "Going Wild". Stanford University Magazine. Stanford University. Retrieved 25 Aug 2014.
  20. ^ "People - Robert Sapolsky - Radiolab". Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  21. ^ Joe Rogan (2017-10-18), Joe Rogan Experience #965 - Robert Sapolsky, retrieved 2018-03-20
  22. ^ Sapolsky, Robert, The biology of our best and worst selves, retrieved 2018-03-20
  23. ^ Sapolsky, Robert, The uniqueness of humans, retrieved 2018-03-20
  24. ^ "MacArthur Fellows List - July 1987". Archived from the original on 2008-04-19. Retrieved 2008-03-24.
  25. ^ "About AAAS: John McGovern Lecture". Retrieved 22 Feb 2009.
  26. ^ "Sagan Prize Recipients". 2011. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  27. ^ "Honorary FFRF Board Announced". Archived from the original on December 17, 2010. Retrieved February 15, 2010.
  28. ^ "Emperor Has No Clothes Award -- Robert Sapolsky". Freedom From Religion Foundation. Retrieved 7 December 2013.

External linksEdit