Hopping on the moral psychology press is this Washington Post article, If It Feels Good to Be Good, It Might Be Only Natural. It leads with a short description of research on volunteers by Jorge Moll and Jordan Grafman that showed why generosity feels satisfying: it involves the same region of the brain which responds to sex and food.
Here’s their paper:
- Moll J et al. Human Fronto-Mesolimbic Networks Guide Decisions About Charitable Donation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 17, 2006, Vol. 103(42), pp. 15623-15628.
The Post’s story is a light survey of modern moral psychology, and includes interviews from Jean Decety (empathy), Antonio Damasio (moral decision-making), Adrian Raine (crime as mental illness), Joshua Greene (intuitions and biological origins of moral philosophy) and Marc Hauser (morality is innate like language).
It also does a decent job of stirring up the set of worries created by this research, and – like every other piece I’ve read in the press – doesn’t know where to go with them:
Psychopaths often feel no empathy or remorse. Without that awareness, people relying exclusively on reasoning seem to find it harder to sort their way through moral thickets. Does that mean they should be held to different standards of accountability?
Particularly nice is this quote from Cohen, who wrestles with how we should respond to learning about moral intuitions:
It is comforting to think your moral intuitions are reliable and you can trust them. But if my analysis is right, your intuitions are not trustworthy. Once you realize why you have the intuitions you have, it puts a burden on you.
Moral obligations about moral feelings. Wonderful.
More recent work on altruism can be found here…
- Tankersley D et al. Altruism is Associated with an Increased Response to Agency. Nature Neuroscience, February 2007, Vol. 10(2), pp. 150-151.
- Lamm, C., Batson, C.D., and Decety, J. (2007). The neural basis of human empathy – Effects of perspective-taking and cognitive appraisal: An event-related fMRI study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19, 42-58.