By Jenifer Z. Siegel and Molly J. Crockett
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Originally published September 24, 2013
Neuroscientists are now discovering how hormones and brain chemicals shape social behavior, opening potential avenues for pharmacological manipulation of ethical values. Here, we review recent studies showing how altering brain chemistry can alter moral judgment and behavior, focusing in particular on the neuromodulator serotonin and its role in shaping values related to harm and fairness. We synthesize previous findings and consider the potential mechanisms through which serotonin could increase the aversion to harming others. We present a process model whereby serotonin influences social behavior by shifting social preferences in the positive direction, enhancing the value people place on others’ outcomes. This model may explain previous findings relating serotonin function to prosocial behavior, and makes new predictions regarding how serotonin may influence the neural computation of value in social contexts.
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