Sticking to values activates ‘ethics’ part of brain

Sticking to values even in the face of temptations, including money, activates an area of the brain tied with rules-based, ethical thought processes.

Simply told, decision-making over ‘sacred values’ prompts our brains to act in a specific way, says an Emory University neuro-imaging study.

“Our experiment found that the realm of the sacred – whether it’s a strong religious belief, a national identity or a code of ethics – is a distinct cognitive process,” says Gregory Berns, director of the Centre for Neuropolicy at Emory University who led the study, the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society reports.

Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record the brain responses of a group of adults during key phases of an experiment, according to an Emory statement.

Participants could earn as much as $100 per statement by simply agreeing to sign a document stating the opposite of what they believed. They could choose to opt out of the auction for statements they valued highly.

The brain imaging data showed a strong correlation between sacred values and activation of the neural (brain cells) systems linked with evaluating rights and wrongs (left temporoparietal junction) and semantic rule retrieval (left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex), but not with systems tied with reward.

Participants who reported more active affiliations with organisations, namely churches, sports teams, musical groups and environmental clubs had stronger brain activity in the same brain regions that correlated to sacred values.

“Organised groups may instil values more strongly through the use of rules and social norms,” Berns says. (IANS)

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