A Magnetic Field Applied to the Brain Can Alter People's Sense of Morality
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of Popular Science magazine
Posted: April 13th, 2010
MIT scientists have shown that they can alter our moral judgments simply by magnetically interfering with a certain part of the brain. Studies have shown that the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) lights up with activity when we engage in moral judgments like evaluating the intentions of another person, indicating the region is important to making moral decisions. But while we like to think we're very consistent in our morality, the MIT team showed that an electromagnetic field applied to the scalp impairs our ability to evaluate the intentions of others, leaving us with little by which to hand down a moral judgment. The study relied on non-invasive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to interfere with the right TPJ, temporarily impeding the normal firing of neurons in that region. Control subjects were able to evaluate the harmfulness and morality of characters' intentions, whereas those exposed to TMS made judgments based purely on outcome. For example, one common question asked whether or not it was morally permissible for a man to allow his girlfriend to cross a bridge he knows is unsafe, even if in the end she makes it across safely. Control subjects found the intention to do harm morally impermissible, but those exposed to TMS largely based their judgment solely on the outcome.
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