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Dr. Jorge Moll Explores the Physiology of Morality

Research conducted by Neuroscientist Jorge Moll suggests that generosity might be as gratifying as sex. The experiment monitored the brain activity of volunteers. The subjects were asked to imagine that they had performed either a selfless or selfish act.

This was an experiment in the field Moral Cognitive Neuroscience a discipline in which Jorge Moll is a pioneer. The results showed that imagining performing a selfless act stimulated the same area of the brain that responds to pleasurable sensations like eating or sex. The test suggests that kindness is not a choice, but is a pre-programmed response (Loop.frontiersin).

When the question of “nature or nurture” is applied to morality it appears the answer is nature. Compassion, empathy, and kindness are biological responses. The brain rewards proper conduct with a pleasant physical response. The researchers including Moll were surprised by these findings.

Jorge Moll and other neuroscientists lean towards the conclusion that the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes is the basis of morality. The evolution of morality is what made it possible for people to form societies.

Further research shows that empathy and morality go hand-in-hand. People with damage to the brain’s ventromedial prefrontal cortex are incapable of applying emotions to questions of morality. This conclusion was reached during a study conducted at USC.

When confronted with a complex moral choice like killing 500 people to save 50,000 the brain-damaged patients wouldn’t experience any angst in arriving at their answer. The answer would be cut and dry; kill the 500.

Two conclusions can be drawn form Jorge Moll’s work. You can’t understand morality without understanding the steps that lead to a moral decision. If immorality is the result of a flaw in the brain society might have to take a kinder gentler view of the immoral.

Jorge Moll is the president of the D’Or Institute for Research and Education. He is also a partner at VHM. VHM provides funding for biomedical research. Moll’s MD is from the Federal Univ. of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His Ph.D. in Experimental Pathophysiology was earned at the University of Sao Paulo.


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