This Is Your Brain on Ethics

Another important implication of the study, said Quartz, is that it furthers the notion that our ideas of fairness are inborn, and not learned.

"A sense of fairness is a basic part of our biology," he said. "This underlies the idea that our brain comes prepared to engage and to solve moral dilemmas, which are critical for any kind of life in a society."

Brain scans are increasingly playing an important part in understanding how different areas of the human brain interact to make decisions.

"It's a remarkable advance in our understanding of the brain to be able to peer into the brain, understand the dynamics of decision making and predict what will be decided," said Dr. Paul Root Wolpe, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania and president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, who was not involved with the study.

It's important, said Wolpe, not to oversimplify how our decisions are made.

"To chalk it off to emotions is to take away from what it means to evolve as a social species," he said, adding that emotion still plays an important role in decision making.

"I'm not sure there's anybody who believes the moral decisions that people make in their everyday lives are not deeply influenced by emotion."

Any Questions?

One possible follow-up proposed by Quartz is to study whether brain scans can help predict whether someone is a Democrat or a Republican based on how their brain lights up in these moral situations.

Wolpe agrees that insights like these would be fascinating, but cautions that it will raise privacy concerns.

"Imagine what could happen if, through brain imaging, we could correlate with voting patterns and other behaviors?" he said. "That's a very troubling idea in some ways.

"It would be a fascinating and also troubling development to look at brain function or brain traits and categorize people through them," said Wolpe. "[But] it has a deterministic feel that I think people find really disturbing."

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