Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

People are of ’two minds’ on moral judgments

14.10.2004


You and your fellow townspeople are hiding in a cellar from marauding soldiers. Your baby starts to cry, which would alert the soldiers to your presence. The only way to save yourself and the others is to smother your baby. What do you do?



Making such tough personal moral judgments involves not just abstract reasoning or emotion, as shown by the results of a new study by Joshua Greene and his colleagues. Rather, their brain scan studies of people making such judgments revealed that the judgments activate brain regions involved in both reason and emotion.

The recruitment of both brain areas could well stem from humans’ evolutionary past, they theorize, in which moral judgment is driven in part by social and emotional processing from our ancient primate past in concert with the sophisticated abstract reasoning we have evolved as humans.


In previous studies, the researchers found that when people considered judgments involving others they use brain areas associated with abstract reasoning. Example: You see a runaway trolley headed for five people. You can throw a switch to deflect the trolley onto a track that would kill only one bystander. Should you throw the switch? (Most people say no.)

In contrast, found the researchers, people asked to make personal moral judgments--ones that directly involve them--use brain areas associated with emotional and social cognition. Example: You are standing on a footbridge next to a very large person. You see the same trolley below you. If you throw the person off the footbridge, you save the five people, but personally kill the large person. Should you throw the person off the footbridge? (Most people say no.) A key question, wondered the researchers, was what happens in the brain when the personal moral dilemmas were difficult, as in the "crying baby" scenario.

In their experiments, Greene and his colleagues presented volunteer subjects with a battery of both easy personal moral dilemmas, such as the "footbridge" dilemma, and difficult ones, such as the "crying baby" dilemma. The latter dilemmas were meant to bring the cognitive and emotional factors into more balanced tension so the researchers could observe the interaction between cognitive versus social/emotional processing.

As the subjects considered the dilemmas, the researchers scanned the subjects’ brains using functional magnetic resonance. In this widely used imaging technique, harmless magnetic fields and radio signals are used to measure blood flow in regions of the brain, with such flow indicating brain activity levels.

The researchers discovered that people confronting the difficult personal moral dilemmas showed increased activity in the areas involved in abstract reasoning and cognitive control compared with those confronting easy personal moral dilemmas. As in the earlier work, the personal moral dilemmas also showed increased activity in social-emotional areas. Importantly, found the researchers, the difficult personal moral dilemmas caused increased activity in a brain region called the "anterior cingulate cortex," which is believed to be involved in processing conflict.

The researchers concluded that their results provide "strong support for the view that both ’cognitive’ and emotional processes play crucial and sometimes mutually competitive roles" in moral judgment. They wrote that their results "suggest a synthetic view of moral judgment that acknowledges the crucial roles played by both emotion and ’cognition’."

Joshua D. Greene, Leigh E. Nystrom, Andrew D. Engell, John M. Darley, and Jonathan D. Cohen: "The Neural Bases of Cognitive Conflict and Control in Moral Judgment"

Heidi Hardman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cell.com

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Amazingly flexible: Learning to read in your thirties profoundly transforms the brain
26.05.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften

nachricht Fixating on faces
26.01.2017 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Salmonella as a tumour medication

HZI researchers developed a bacterial strain that can be used in cancer therapy

Salmonellae are dangerous pathogens that enter the body via contaminated food and can cause severe infections. But these bacteria are also known to target...

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

3rd Symposium on Driving Simulation

23.10.2017 | Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microfluidics probe 'cholesterol' of the oil industry

23.10.2017 | Life Sciences

Gamma rays will reach beyond the limits of light

23.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

The end of pneumonia? New vaccine offers hope

23.10.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>