Brain imaging study sheds light on moral decision-making

Sept. 13, 2001 4:26 p.m.

In a study that combines philosophy and neuroscience, Princeton University researchers have begun to explain how emotional reactions and logical thinking interact in moral decision-making.

The researchers reported in the Sept. 14 issue of Science that they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze brain activity in people who were asked to ponder a range of moral dilemmas.

The results suggest that, while people regularly reach the same conclusions when faced with uncomfortable moral choices, their answers often do not grow out of the reasoned application of general moral principles. Instead, they draw on emotional reactions, particularly for certain kinds of moral dilemmas.

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