Our Inconsistent Ethical Instincts
We like to believe that the principled side of the equation is rooted in deep, reasoned conviction. But a growing wealth of research shows that those values often prove to be finicky, inconsistent intuitions, swayed by ethically irrelevant factors. What you say now you might disagree with in five minutes. And such wavering has implications for both public policy and our personal lives.[more inside]
Chimp Fights and Trolley Rides from Radiolab's morality episode: "try to answer tough moral quandaries. The questions--which force you to decide between homicidal scenarios--are the same ones being asked by Dr. Joshua Greene. He'll tell us about using modern brain scanning techniques to take snapshots of the brain as it struggles to resolve these moral conflicts. And he'll describe what he sees in these images: quite literally, a battle taking place in the brain. It's 'inner chimp' versus a calculator-wielding rationale."
Researchers at MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences have identified two "morality centers" of the brain. In two separate experiments, they have shown a correlation between a particular part of the brain and the ability to make moral jusgments related to intent to commit a crime. In one experiment, patients with brain damage in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of the brain don't consider hypothetical perpetrators to be morally responsible for their actions. In another experiment (noted on NPR today) the researchers showed that they could switch off the moral judgment function by applying a magnetic field to the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ) of the brain. The TPJ has also been implicated in "out of body experiences", both in cases of brain damage and by artificially stimulating the area.
Impaired emotional processing affects moral judgements. People with damage to a key emotion-processing region of the brain also make moral decisions based on the greater good of the community, unclouded by concerns over harming an individual.