The biology of morality

A recent study suggests that morality may owe more to biochemistry than to authority or social convention.

Diverse lines of evidence point to a basic human aversion to physically harming others. First, we demonstrate that unwillingness to endorse harm in a moral dilemma is predicted by individual differences in aversive reactivity, as indexed by peripheral vasoconstriction. Next, we tested the specific factors that elicit the aversive response to harm… These simulated harmful actions increased peripheral vasoconstriction significantly more than did witnessing pretend harmful actions or to performing metabolically matched nonharmful actions. This suggests that the aversion to harmful actions extends beyond empathic concern for victim harm. Together, these studies demonstrate a link between the body and moral decision-making processes.

The study was published in the journal Emotion by the American Psychological Association.


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