Neuroscientist Molly Crockett studies altruism, morality and value-based decision-making in humans. In her fascinating 2012 London TED Talk, she warns, “If someone tries to sell you something with a brain on it … ask to see the evidence. Ask for the part of the story that’s not being told.” She and her fellow researchers published a study on the effects of serotonin on an individuals reactions when they felt they had been treated unfairly. In their study, they gave participants a beverage designed to deplete the brain of tryptophan (which is converted into serotonin). They found that removing tryptophan made people more likely to seek revenge. What followed was a flurry of wild article headlines (claiming to be based on her research) titled,  “Official! Chocolate stops you being grumpy” and “A cheese sandwich is all you need for strong decision making.

“Did I miss something? Cheese? Chocolate? Where did that come from?” she said in response to the headlines. “Our study had nothing to do with cheese or chocolate — we gave people a horrible-tasting drink. But it turns out that tryptophan also happens to be found in cheese and chocolate. And when science says that cheese and chocolate help you make better decisions, well that’s sure to grab people’s attention.”


“Can what you eat influence your sense of justice? Will a simple drug make you more likely to help a stranger on the street? Neuroscientist Molly Crockett asks and answers these and many other fascinating questions about the influence of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, on altruism and decision-making. Neuroscience may hold the answer, says Crockett, but there are still limits to our ability to draw conclusions from neural research…Brains are ubiquitous in modern marketing: Headlines proclaim cheese sandwiches help with decision-making, while a “neuro” drink claims to reduce stress. There’s just one problem, says neuroscientist Molly Crockett: The benefits of these “neuro-enhancements” are not proven scientifically. In this to-the-point talk, Crockett explains the limits of interpreting neuroscientific data, and why we should all be aware of them.”

Photo: Ted Blog