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Innovation

She found your moral center and twisted it

To be able to apply [a magnetic field] to a specific brain region and change people's moral judgments is really astonishing.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Meet Liane Young (right).

A pleasant enough person. Harvard-educated, working at MIT as a post-doc before she starts her teaching career at Boston College.

Always interested in morality. Not just its content, but where it comes from.

She helped tease that out in a paper published in 2007. It's in the right temporoparietal junction, whose location varies a bit from person-to-person.

Now here's what makes nice lady scary.

In a paper published this week at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she her colleagues reveal a way to scramble that moral sense. With magnets.

The test proving this hypothesis was fairly simple. Subjects were given stories about moral judgments, and asked to evaluate them after 25 minutes of transcranial magnetic stimulation, magnetic waves aimed at that junction of the brain where morality is stored.

Those who received the treatment were far more likely to find immoral acts acceptable, based on their outcome, than subjects who did not get the treatment.

The success surprised even Young. "To be able to apply [a magnetic field] to a specific brain region and change people's moral judgments is really astonishing." Sure is.

The implications are Frankenstein-ian. (A woman author, Mary Shelley, wrote that original story.) You could turn philosophy majors into Wall Street traders overnight!

Now that we know it's possible to change the focus of mens' minds from intentions to outcomes, could we do the reverse? Make a bad man moral with magnets? Young doesn't know. Yet. But we gather she's keen to find out.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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