Monday, 25 January 2010

Magnetic Morality

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) alters peoples moral judgements!

Inside your brain there is a little area that deals with thinking about how other people think. It's a highly specialised area of the brain and the only area that deals with this particular issue. It is also not used for solving any other types of logical problems.

human brain

This specialised region is called the Right Temporal Parietal Junction and is located just above and behind your right ear. This particular function performed by the brain seems to be exclusively human. And it doesn't function from day one but takes many years to develop this unique skill.

Experiments with children have illustrated that this ability seems to begin developing around 3 to 5 years old. There is the Smarties, pencils and child experiment (Smarties are sweets like M&Ms in a tube) where the child is surprised to find pencils inside the Smartie tube and when the lid is replaced and the child's parent is invited into the room the child, at age 3, will expect the parent to think there are pencils in the tube. This is because there are pencils in the tube and the child isn't able to think of what someone else might think. By the age of 5 a child will predict that the parent will think there are Smarties in the tube and be surprised to find pencils.

This ability to simulate someone else's mind inside your own brain seems to continue developing in sophistication certainly through adolescence. At an early age children will make a moral judgement that someone is wrong to do something naughty but it makes no difference if that person was mistaken. They are still blameable. By the age of 7 children can realise that someone thought they were doing something okay but were mistaken and so are not so blameable.

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