My Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Goes Out To You

This an interesting little study …

Damage to the part of the brain that controls social emotions changes the way people respond to thorny moral problems, demonstrating the role of empathy and other feelings in life-or-death decisions.

Asked to resolve hypothetical dilemmas — such as tossing a person from a bridge into the path of a trolley to save five others — people with damage to their ventromedial prefrontal cortex tended to sacrifice one life to save many, according to a study published Wednesday by the journal Nature.

People with intact brains were far less likely to kill or harm someone when confronted with the same scenarios.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and private sources, suggests that an aversion to hurting others is hard-wired into the brain.

… though I have a few nits to pick.

It’s a bit premature to say that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex“controls” social emotions, given how little is known about it. Theheadline describes empathy as “hard-wired”, a phrase with inflexibleconnotations that may not be appropriate to our highly plastic brains.
And both groups — those with damaged VPCs, and those without — wereunwilling to kill for personal gain. Is it really empathy, then, thatis being measured?

Nevertheless, a fascinating piece of science.

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