Here’s an important MIT study with implications for cell phone users who normally use their phone placed next to the right side of their heads (and possibly for Blue-Tooth headsets used on this side as well). If used on the right side it would place the antenna in close proximity to the right temporo-parietal junction which is located on the brain’s surface above and behind the right ear. Considering that when the phone is used right next to the head over 40% of the energy can be absorbed by the brain, in some situations this could place the right temporo-parietal junction right in the firing line! Considering the obvious implications this certainly calls for further research. Too bad the industry basically controls research priorities.
It would be good to follow up this study with another that used an operating cell phone next to the right side of the head to see if there was a similar effect on moral judgment which would include risk taking behaviours.
Scientists discover moral compass in the brain which can be controlled by magnets
By David Derbyshire
Last updated at 11:52 AM on 30th March 2010
The moral compass, technically named the right temporo-parietal junction, lies just behind the right ear in the brain
Scientists have discovered a real-life ‘moral compass’ in the brain that controls how we judge other people’s behaviour.
The region, which lies just behind the right ear, becomes more active when we think about other people’s misdemeanours or good works.
In an extraordinary experiment, researchers were able to use powerful magnets to disrupt this area of the brain and make people temporarily less moral.
The study highlights how our sense of right and wrong isn’t just based on upbringing, religion or philosophy – but by the biology of our brains.
Dr Liane Young, who led the study, said: ‘You think of morality as being a really high-level behaviour. To be able to apply a magnetic field to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgements is really astonishing.’
The moral compass lies in a part of the brain called the right temporo-parietal junction. It lies near the surface of the brain, just behind the right ear.
The researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used a non-invasive technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation to disrupt the area of the brain.
The technique generates a magnetic field on a small part of the skull which creates weak electric currents in the brain. These currents interfere with nearby brain cells and prevent them from firing normally.
In the first experiment, 12 volunteers were exposed to the magnetic field for 25 minutes before they were given a series of ‘moral maze’ style scenarios.
For each of the 192 scenarios, they were asked to make a judgement about the character’s actions on a scale of 1 for ‘absolutely forbidden’ to 7 for ‘absolutely permissible’.
In the second experiment, the magnetic field was applied to their heads at the time they were asked to weigh up the behaviour of the characters in the scenario.
In both experiments, the magnetic field made the volunteers less moral.
One scenario described a man who let his girlfriend walk over a bridge he knew was unsafe. The girl survived unharmed.
Under normal conditions, most people rate the man’s behaviour as unacceptable. But after getting the magnetic pulse, the volunteers tended to see nothing wrong with his actions – and judged his behaviour purely on whether his girlfriend survived.
Another scenario described two girls visiting a chemical plant where one girl asks her friend to put sugar in her coffee.
The friend uses powder from a jar marked ‘toxic’ – but as the powder turns out to be sugar, the girls if unharmed.
Volunteers with a disrupted moral compass tended to rate the girl’s behaviour as permissible because her friend was not injured – even though she was aware the powder came from a jar labelled toxic.
Throughout the experiment, irresponsible or deliberate actions that might have resulted in harm were seen as morally acceptable if the story had a ‘happy ending’, they reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It’s not the first time that scientists have found parts of the brain that specialise in ethics and morality. Last year American scientists claimed to have found a “god spot” – a region of the brain that controls religious belief.
“Previous research has shown that a brain region called the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), located at the brain’s surface above and behind the right ear, is highly active when someone thinks about another person’s intentions, thoughts and beliefs.” Liane Young, Study Author
Executive Health March 29, 2010, 16:00 EST text size: TTScientists Tweak Subjects’ Brains to Alter Their Moral Choices
Experiment helps show how and where these decisions are made
MONDAY, March 29 (HealthDay News) — Changing someone’s moral response to a situation could be as easy as manipulating a piece of their brain, a new study finds.
Previous research has shown that a brain region called the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), located at the brain’s surface above and behind the right ear, is highly active when someone thinks about another person’s intentions, thoughts and beliefs.
In this new study, neuroscientists led by Rebecca Saxe of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology disrupted activity in volunteers’ right TPJ by inducing a current in the brain using a magnetic field applied to the scalp.
This impaired the participants’ ability to make moral judgments that require an understanding of other people’s intentions. For example, they were more likely to judge someone’s failed attempt to harm another as morally permissible.
Because transcranial magnetic stimulation interferes with the ability to interpret others’ intentions, a person must rely more on the outcome of a situation to make a moral judgment, the researchers said.
The study, published in the March 29-April 2 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers “striking evidence” that the right TPJ plays a critical role in making judgments, said lead author Liane Young, a postdoctoral associate in MIT’s department of brain and cognitive sciences.
“You think of morality as being a really high-level behavior. To be able to apply (a magnetic field) to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgments is really astonishing,” she said in an MIT news release.
The study comes on the heels of similar MIT-based research published last week in Neuron. In that study, Young and colleagues pinpointed the brain’s ventromedial cortex as a center for moral decision-making, after studying nine patients with damage to that region.
There’s more on how the brain works from Harvard University.
— Robert Preidt
SOURCE: MIT, news release, March 29, 2010 Copyright © 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.Leave a reply →