Sunday, June 27, 2010


BBC News - Morality is modified in the lab

Scientists have shown they can change people's moral judgements by disrupting a specific area of the brain with magnetic pulses.

They identified a region of the brain just above and behind the right ear which appears to control morality.

And by using magnetic pulses to block cell activity they impaired volunteers' notion of right and wrong.

The small Massachusetts Institute of Technology study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lead researcher Dr Liane Young said: "You think of morality as being a really high-level behaviour.

"To be able to apply a magnetic field to a specific brain region and change people's moral judgments is really astonishing."

The key area of the brain is a knot of nerve cells known as the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ).

The researchers subjected 20 volunteers to a number of tests designed to assess their notions of right and wrong.

In one scenario participants were asked how acceptable it was for a man to let his girlfriend walk across a bridge he knew to be unsafe.

After receiving a 500 millisecond magnetic pulse to the scalp, the volunteers delivered verdicts based on outcome rather than moral principle.

If the girlfriend made it across the bridge safely, her boyfriend was not seen as having done anything wrong.

In effect, they were unable to make moral judgments that require an understanding of other people's intentions.

"a region of the brain just above and behind the right ear which appears to control morality"?!?

So, what is my cellphone doing to it?

1 comment:

  1. Ah ... cellphones are causing all our troubles. I like your theory :)

    I wonder how can they be so confident that 'morality' is being modified here. Could it not be something more basic to do with causal reasoning about 'intent' that is being garbled?
    I guess I'd be surprised if 'morality' was so isolated a brain function. It seems more plausible that a key cognitive step which happens to be used heavily in moral judgments might be.

    They need to talk to Daniel Dennett about the intentional stance ...