Thu Dec 29, 2011, 08:47 AM
LAGC (5,275 posts)
Can a molecule make us moral?
(CNN) -- The longest debate since humans have been having debates is whether we are good or evil. It underlies the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Jesus and Judas.
What is our human nature? Of course, the answer is we can be both good and evil. But what determines which part of our character emerges?
About a decade ago, my lab made an unexpected breakthrough in the understanding of good and evil. We discovered that the neurochemical oxytocin makes people trustworthy. We then found oxytocin was responsible for many other moral behaviors, from being generous to sacrificing to help a stranger.
Wait -- morality is chemical? In my TED talk, I describe how I made the unlikely discovery of the moral molecule, how I was roundly discouraged from even looking for such a chemical, and what drove me to persist in my search.
First "neurolaw", now "neuroeconomics"... where will neuroscience take us next?
13 replies, 3046 views
Can a molecule make us moral? (Original post)
|Ian David||Dec 2011||#1|
|Ian David||Dec 2011||#13|
|Little Star||Dec 2011||#2|
|Dont call me Shirley||Dec 2011||#11|
Response to Ian David (Reply #1)
Thu Dec 29, 2011, 04:07 PM
BB1 (798 posts)
9. Thief of Time,
Terry Prattchett. The evil entities are defeated by the use of delicious chocolate and bonbons - which were smacked in their faces. Great read, especially for chocolate-lovers!
Response to BB1 (Reply #9)
Fri Dec 30, 2011, 10:04 AM
Ian David (69,059 posts)
13. I'll have to look into that one. Thanks! See also:
Plot Summary for Bugsy Malone (1976)
A gangster movie where all the gangsters are children. Instead of real bullets they use "splurge guns" that cover the victim in cream. The story tells of the rise of "Bugsy Malone" and the battle for power between "Fat Sam" and "Dandy Dan".
Response to LAGC (Original post)
Thu Dec 29, 2011, 10:37 AM
ccinamon (1,696 posts)
3. This would explain some conservatives....
they are against everything that would give a leg up to the disadvantaged until they need that program, then they understand why it needs to be in place and generally they change their mind and think the program that just helped them needs to stay....but everything else still needs to go....
No empathy, no way to look outside themselves (being selfish).
Recently there was a news story, this lady was adamantly opposed to the Healthcare Reform Act Pres. Obama signed....but it saved her life as she has previous conditions and was found to have breast cancer. NOW she is all for "Obamacare" and says she really didn't understand all of what was in the bill even though she says she read the entire thing.
Response to snot (Reply #5)
Thu Dec 29, 2011, 05:20 PM
tclambert (8,871 posts)
10. I foresee guerilla oxytocin patching of Republicans.
Instead of pie in the face, slap an oxytocin patch on, say, Ron Paul, and suddenly he develops empathy, perhaps even sympathy for other humans.
"What did you stick on my arm? What is this thing? it tingles! Wait, . . . wait . . . Oh, my God, I see it now! We should try to help all the poor people! Why have I been so mean my whole life? I'm so ashamed."
Maybe oxytocin darts, too. Well, the Secret Service might shoot you.
Oh, I have it! Oxytocin pies!
Response to LAGC (Original post)
Thu Dec 29, 2011, 02:34 PM
Jim__ (10,690 posts)
7. Is there a moral gene?
A Scientific American article asked that question in October ( http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/2011/10/05/a-moral-gene/ ) . It's talking about a promoter for a serotonin transmitter gene. A short excerpt:
But the connection between SSRIs and morality got Abigail Marsh and her colleagues from Georgetown University and the National Institutes of Health thinking. They knew that natural variation in serotonin reuptake ability exists in the population because of alterations in the promoter for one of the serotonin transmitter genes. People with the long form of the promoter (L) have normal levels of reuptake, while those with a truncated version (S) have reduced serotonin reuptake, similar to taking an SSRI. The researchers wondered if this natural variation influenced moral decision making in the same way that treatment with an SSRI does.
So, they took 65 healthy volunteers and tested their genes to see what versions of the promotor they had. Overall, 22 had two copies of the long form of the gene (LL), 30 had one of each (SL), and 13 had two copies of the short form of the gene (SS). They then asked these individuals to rate the overall morality of a variety of scenarios, including ones like the one above where one person is unintentionally harmed to save five others.
The results were clear: although the three groups showed no differences when presented with morally neutral scenarios or those where harm is intentionally caused to an individual, there were significant differences between groups when it came to scenarios of foreseen harm. Those with the long form of the promoter were much more willing to approve of harming one person to protect five. They felt that doing so was the better moral choice:
Those with the short form of the gene, however, felt that harming the one was morally neutral.
“I think this study is useful in helping to point out that maybe the way people arrive at their moral intuitions is just different for different people, in ways that are very deeply rooted,” says Marsh, the lead author, in a press release. Indeed, moral decision making may be as deeply rooted as it can be – that is, in our genomes.
A review of Patricia Churchland's Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality describes oxytocin as mostly related to empathy - a part of morality, but not all of it. A short excerpt from that review ( http://chronicle.com/article/The-Biology-of-Ethics/127789/ ) :
Oxytocin's primary purpose appears to be in solidifying the bond between mother and infant, but Churchland argues—drawing on the work of biologists—that there are significant spillover effects: Bonds of empathy lubricated by oxytocin expand to include, first, more distant kin and then other members of one's in-group. (Another neurochemical, aregenine vasopressin, plays a related role, as do endogenous opiates, which reinforce the appeal of cooperation by making it feel good.)
The biological picture contains other elements, of course, notably our large prefrontal cortexes, which help us to take stock of situations in ways that lower animals, driven by "fight or flight" impulses, cannot. But oxytocin and its cousin-compounds ground the human capacity for empathy. (When she learned of oxytocin's power, Churchland writes in Braintrust, she thought: "This, perhaps, Hume might accept as the germ of 'moral sentiment.'" )
From there, culture and society begin to make their presence felt, shaping larger moral systems: tit-for-tat retaliation helps keep freeloaders and abusers of empathic understanding in line. Adults pass along the rules for acceptable behavior—which is not to say "just" behavior, in any transcendent sense—to their children. Institutional structures arise to enforce norms among strangers within a culture, who can't be expected to automatically trust each other.
I think neuroscience is beginning to tell us a lot about how our brain works. But, I also think that it is just beginning. The questions are complex and I don't think we're near the solution just yet.