See Inside June/July 2007

Emotional Morality

Would you take one human life to save many? The obvious answer might seem to be “yes” —but what if your choice also meant you would be sacrificing your own child? Such dilemmas suggest that moral decision making has an emotional component, and now scientists have found the brain region responsible for generating these feelings.

Researchers studied patients with damage to their ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area in the forebrain where social emotions such as compassion, guilt and shame arise. They asked the patients to respond to a variety of hypothetical moral dilemmas evoking emotional reactions of different strengths, then compared their responses with those of people whose forebrains were intact.

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