November 27, 2022

Fairness is hard-wired in the brain, says Caltech philosopher

Moral differences may be largely biological
Another advance in finding a
neurological basis for everything. Scientists at California Institute of
Technology have discovered that the concept of fairness is processed in the
insular cortex, or insula, which is also the seat of emotional reactions.
"The fact that the brain has such a robust response to unfairness suggests
that sensing unfairness is a basic evolved capacity," notes Steven Quartz,
an associate professor of philosophy at Caltech and author of a study published
in Science in early May. "The
movement to look into the neural basis for ethical decision making is only
about seven years old," Quartz says. "This is the first study where
people made real decisions with real consequences."

The
subjects in the study, 26 men and women between 28 and 55 years old, took part
in what is described as a real-world moral dilemma. They read short biographies
of each of the 60 orphans at the Canaan Children’s Home in Uganda. The
orphanage was to receive a sum of money that would depend on decisions the
subjects made about distributing food to the orphans. In the end, $2,279 was
donated.

Brain activity varied
considerably when the participants were making their decisions. This was
interpreted by Dr Quartz as meaning that individual differences in moral
sensitivity may be rooted in the strength of the biological responses.
"The emotional response to unfairness pushes people from extreme inequity
and drives them to be fair," he says. ~ Science
Daily, May 29