MIT neuroscientists have now shown that they can influence those judgments by interfering with activity in a specific brain region--a finding that helps reveal how the brain constructs morality. In the new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers used a magnetic field to disrupt activity in the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ). The stimulation appeared to influence subsequent judgments that required an understanding of other people's intentions.
The findings offer "striking evidence" that the right TPJ, located at the brain's surface above and behind the right ear, is critical for making moral judgments, says Liane Young, the paper's lead author and a postdoctoral associate in brain and cognitive sciences. It's also startling, since normally people are very confident and consistent in such judgments, she adds. "You think of morality as being a really high-level behavior," Young says. "To be able to apply [a magnetic field] to a specific brain region and change people's moral judgments is really astonishing."
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