Recent research has found that moral judgement is governed by an area of the brain just above the right ear. This can be 'turned off' by applying a magnet to the head in this area.
Turning off someone's moral compass is as easy as holding a magnet up to their head, new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests.
Would this effect result from the field generated by a hairdryer in a salon? Or the smaller field from a phone?? Now there's a scary prospect.
Rather than judging people based on their actions, most people tend to judge based on the intent of those actions, too.
If a man trips his girlfriend on the sidewalk, for example, we determine if he is morally wrong based on whether it was by accident or on purpose.
But when a small area of the brain just above the right ear, called the right temporo-parietal junction, is disabled, we lose that ability entirely.
Instead, we judge the morality of an action based solely on its outcome. In this case, whether the girlfriend was hurt. If she came out of the trip unharmed, then the boyfriend was, morally speaking, in the clear regardless of whether he meant to injure her.
In the research project, led by Liane Young at MIT, people were asked to evaluate different scenarios like the one above and grade the morality of each person in question. Then a magnet was applied to the outside of their head just above the temporo-parietal junction, disabling the subject's ability to interpret intent.
The results astounded the researchers.
"Subjects were asked to judge how permissible it is for someone to let his girlfriend walk across a bridge he knows to be unsafe, even if she ends up making it across safely," said Anne Trafton, a spokeswoman at MIT.
"In such cases, a judgment based solely on the outcome would hold the perpetrator morally blameless, even though it appears he intended to do harm."
“You think of morality as being a really high-level behaviour,” she continued. “To be able to apply [a magnetic field] to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgments is really astonishing.” Next, researchers want to examine perceptions of luck in moral judgment. A drunk driver, for example, may or may not kill someone as a result of their actions and whether they do is largely considered to be up to luck.
But the unlucky driver tends to be judged "more morally blameworthy,"
researchers suggest, even though both drivers did the same thing.
Young now hopes to discover if disabling the same part of the brain that determines intent has any effect on peoples' perceptions of luck.