Paul Zak and the Neurology of Neighborly Exchange

Friday, September 3, 2010 - 5:00 am

Paul Zak and the Neurology of Neighborly Exchange

stoop saleA stoop sale in Brooklyn. (photo: click wrrr/Flickr)
Earlier this summer, I spent more money than I wanted to on camping equipment — hiking poles and other gear I won’t likely use off the trail. Maybe I should have asked a neighbor to borrow or rent their stuff instead. Not only would I have saved some dollar bills, but my brain might have gotten a neurological boost as well.
That’s according to neuroeconomist Paul Zak, who was recently quoted in The New York Times about the benefits of participating in neighborly economic transactions — for example, renting a pricey Roomba from someone down the street rather than buying one from a big box store. According to Zak:

“There is an underlying notion that if I rent my things in my house, I get to meet my neighbor, and if I’m walking the goods over, I get to meet them in person … We’re drawing on a desire in a fast-paced world to still have real connections to a community.”

Krista interviewed Zak for “The Science of Trust: Economics and Virtue,” a show we produced in 2009 as the Great Recession was unfolding. He does research on oxytocin, a powerful neurotransmitter known as “the trust hormone” that’s commonly associated with breast feeding and childbirth but is also triggered by other forms of social bonding.
Zak’s work around trust and transactions reminds me of a different story altogether from Khalid Kamau, who was featured in our Repossessing Virtue series on the economic crisis. Kamau’s reflection about borrowing eggs and milk from a neighbor hints at a collective longing to belong to a supportive social fabric.
All of this has me wondering how and whether these trends might be playing out in your own life. Are you sharing or in some way participating in neighborly exchanges of goods and services? If so, have you experienced a greater sense of belonging or social connection as a result? Share your oxytocin story with us.

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is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as publisher & editor-in-chief. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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