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Friday, December 12, 2014

The Neuroscience of Moral Decision Making

By Molly Crockett
Edge Video Series
Originally published November 18, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

The neurochemistry adds an interesting layer to this bigger question of whether punishment is prosocially motivated, because in some ways it's a more objective way to look at it. Serotonin doesn't have a research agenda; it's just a chemical. We had all this data and we started thinking differently about the motivations of so-called altruistic punishment. That inspired a purely behavioral study where we give people the opportunity to punish those who behave unfairly towards them, but we do it in two conditions. One is a standard case where someone behaves unfairly to someone else and then that person can punish them. Everyone has full information, and the guy who's unfair knows that he's being punished.

Then we added another condition, where we give people the opportunity to punish in secret— hidden punishment. You can punish someone without them knowing that they've been punished. They still suffer a loss financially, but because we obscure the size of the stake, the guy who's being punished doesn't know he's being punished. The punisher gets the satisfaction of knowing that the bad guy is getting less money, but there's no social norm being enforced.

The entire video and transcript is here.