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Do Emotions and Morality Mix

Since the early 2000s, moral psychologists have been using experimental designs to assess people’s behavior and performance on certain tasks, along with fMRI scans to glimpse the brain’s hidden activity, to illuminate the structure of moral thinking. One pioneer in this field, the philosopher and Harvard University psychology professor Joshua Greene, combined an iconic and thorny ethical thought experiment — the “trolley problem,” when you must decide whether or not you’d flip a switch, or push a man off a footbridge, to cause one person to die instead of five — with brain imaging back in 2001. Those experiments, and subsequent ones, have helped to demystify the role that intuition plays in how we make ethical tradeoffs — and ultimately showed that moral decisions are subject to the same biases as any other type of decision.

 

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