The ability to evaluate other people’s actions as right or wrong can be disrupted with an electromagnetic pulse to the brain, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“You think of morality as being a really high-level behavior,” lead researcher Dr Liane Young said. “To be able to apply a magnetic field to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgments is really astonishing.”
Researchers had 20 volunteers listen to several scenarios, then assess the ethics of the people involved. In one experiment, some of the participants received a 25-minute burst of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to the nerve cluster known as the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ) before hearing the stories. In another experiment, some participants received the TMS burst for only 500 milliseconds after the stories, while being asked to make a judgment.