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May 09, 2007

Neural Scans Reveals "Morality Lobes" of Brain

Mein Voigt-Kampf:

A Harvard professor believes we are born with an instinctive sense of right and wrong, and has subjected adults to a series of moral dilemmas, while scanning their brains. He noticed that certain parts of the brain that are traditionally associated with emotion tended not to react until after a moral judgment had been made. The author has a brain scan in order to test the professor's theory.


The purpose was to test the radical assertion of professor Marc Hauser that all of us are born with an instinctive sense of right and wrong. Hauser is a biological anthropologist at Harvard and the author of "Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong."

And Hauser has been using brain scans, along with other experimental tools, to support his thesis.

Hauser, who uses the model of Noam Chomsky's theory of generative grammar, believes that just as humans have evolved a particular quality that enables us to acquire language, we've also developed what he calls "moral grammar."

He has subjected adults to a series of moral dilemmas, while scanning their brains. Hauser noticed that certain parts of the brain, which are traditionally associated with emotion, tended not to react until after a moral judgment had been made.

Not really sure how proving that certain areas of the brain are associated with moral reasoning proves moral reasoning is instinctive or evolved. I'm pretty sure that solving complex calculus lights up some section of the brain, but I don't see how one jumps from "This part of the brain is active during mathematical reasoning" to "This part of the brain evolved to instinctively solve integrals."

Still, it's interesting. I'm curious if the scans from psychopaths, sociopaths, and the simply habitually criminal show little activation in these areas -- indicating their moral centers are disengaged -- or light up as much as anyone else's -- indicating their moral centers are either ignored or, as they say, "just hooked up wrong."

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posted by Ace at 04:17 PM

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