Neuroscience Psychology

Moral Decisions are Social Emotional Decisions

Would you kill one person to save others? Two recent medical articles here and here discuss recent findings by neuroscientists showing damage to a particular portion of the brain that is known to process social emotions can affect moral judgments…Do we make moral judgments according to social norms, personal emotions, or some combination of the two? Neuroscientists found that people with damage to a particular portion of the brain were more willing to choose a utilitarian approach when presented with a scenario that required them to make a decision about whether to sacrifice one person’s life to save the lives of many. This portion of the brain, the “ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC)”, lies just behind the forehead

“They lack empathy and compassion,”… “Because of their brain damage, they have abnormal social emotions in real life”.

Scientists claim this shows that social emotions are involved in making moral judgments. Damage to this portion of the brain results in decisions that – “right or wrong – seem unnaturally cold.Moral judgments suffer in the absence of feelings. In an interesting twist, this does not affect all moral decisions, but only those where a choice is presented between an action that would normally evoke strong, negative feelings, and a strong utilitarian outcome.

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