Morality Linked to Neuroscience

Here’s a scenario for you: there is a train track and on one track there are 5 men. You see a train coming towards the 5 men and the train is not stopping, but you see a lever. If you pull this lever, these 5 men will be saved, but once you pull this lever, the train will be diverted to another track where there is one man. Would you pull the lever to save 5 men and kill that 1 person? Universally, people answered this question with a yes.

Here’s another scenario: there is that same train track and the 5 men are still there, but now you are on a bridge. You have a large man next to you and you realize you can stop this train by pushing this man. Would you do it? Universally 9/10 people said no. Why is that? Mathematically it’s the same thing. According to Marc Hauser, a professor at Harvard University, he asked people why is this? Most people did not know how to answer that, but scientists have found that your response may be scientifically linked.

The human brain has many nerves and you have a calculating, analytical part of the brain. When you answer no, a different part of the brain lights up compared to when you say yes to that question. There is a battle between these two parts of the brain, your analytical sector and your emotional sector, and your answer will depend on which part wins. Morality is decided this way. What side wins, your emotions and morals or your reasoning? This varies from person to person.

20100329160959-1Is basic human morality invented or is it inherited? Human morality can be embedded in the human brain. Our brains have evolved to have these morals.  These questions are uncomfortable and either answer can be disputed. Morality is undefined because there is no easy answer. There is never a win-win case in these scenarios about doing something for the greater good. Morality is a part of our human makeup in our brains. It can be learned through the years, but our “gut instincts” can be traced back far beyond our lives.







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By: Amanda Ng


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