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Moral judgment fails without feelings

cience at USC.

Our work provides the first causal account of the role of emotions in moral judgments, said co-senior author Marc Hauser, professor of psychology at Harvard and Harvard College Professor.

But, Hauser added, not all moral reasoning depends so strongly on emotion.

What is absolutely astonishing about our results is how selective the deficit is, he said. Damage to the frontal lobe leaves intact a suite of moral problem solving abilities, but damages judgments in which an aversive action is put into direct conflict with a strong utilitarian outcome.

It is the feeling of aversion that normally blocks humans from harming each other. Damasio described it as a combination of rejection of the act, but combined with the social emotion of compassion for that particular person.

The question is, are the social emotions necessary to make these moral judgments, Adolphs asked.

The studys answer will inform a classic philosophical debate on whether humans make moral judgments based on norms and societal rules, or based on their emotions.

The study holds another implication for philosophy.

By showing that humans are neurologically unfit for strict utilitarian thinking, the study suggests that neuroscience may be able to test different philosophies for compatibility with human nature.

The Nature study expands on work on emotion and decision-making that Damasio began in the early 1990s and that caught the public eye in his first book, Descartes Error.

Marc Hauser, whose behavioral work in animals has attempted to identify precursors to moral behavior, then teamed up with Damasios group to extend those observations.


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Contact: Carl Marziali
marziali@usc.edu
213-219-6347
University of Southern California
21-Mar-2007


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