The Moral Molecule

Neuroscience and economic behavior

Why It Pays to Be Nice

The kindness payoff

Be humble. Maybe your mother told you that when you were a child, but it has no place in our “look at me” culture. Nor does it fit into the elbows-out world of business.

Yet, humility is a core value of one of the fastest growing companies of the last decade, Zappos.com. Ten years after its inception, Zappos.com annual sales exceeded one billion dollars, in part by being nice to customers. Can being nice actually cause you to win in life (and business)?

A decade ago, I began running experiments to see if the neurochemical oxytocin (ox-ee-TOE-sin), not to be confused with the prescription pain reliever Oxycontin, did anything more in humans than contract the uterus during birth, the dogma at the time. Intriguing research in social mammals showed that oxytocin allowed for the toleration of burrow-mates. Maybe, I thought, in humans toleration might scale up to trust, compassion, and humility – the most laudable human behaviors.

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Paul J. Zak is a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA.  His book The Moral Molecule will be published in 2012.

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