Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brain co-opts the body to promote moral behavior, study finds

Date:
July 8, 2011
Source:
University of Southern California
Summary:
The human brain may simulate physical sensations to prompt introspection, capitalizing on moments of high emotion to promote moral behavior, according to a researcher.

Girl being reflective. Researchers found that individuals who were told stories designed to evoke compassion and admiration for virtue sometimes reported that they felt a physical sensation in response.
Credit: Paul Hill / Fotolia

The human brain may simulate physical sensations to prompt introspection, capitalizing on moments of high emotion to promote moral behavior, according to a USC researcher.

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute and the USC Rossier School of Education found that individuals who were told stories designed to evoke compassion and admiration for virtue sometimes reported that they felt a physical sensation in response. These psycho-physical "pangs" of emotion are very real -- they're detectable with brain scans -- and may be evidence that pro-social behavior is part of human survival.

Immordino-Yang's hypothesis, borne out thus far by her research, is that the feeling or emotional reactions in the body may sometimes prompt introspection, and can ultimately promote moral choices and motivation to help or emulate others.

"These emotions are foundational for morality and social learning. They have the power to change the course of your very life," Immordino-Yang said.

Her article appears in the July issue of Emotion Review.

In one instance cited in the article, a participant responded to a story of a little boy's selflessness toward his mother by reporting that he felt like there was a "balloon or something under my sternum, inflating and moving up and out." While pondering this physical sensation, the participant paused for a moment and considered his own relationship with his parents. Ultimately, he voiced a promise to express more gratitude toward them.

Researchers noted similar reactions to varying degrees in the test's other participants. Immordino-Yang's team has performed about 50 of these qualitative analyses in Beijing and at USC. The researchers provide the emotional story, then record the participant's reaction, and also use brain scans to record the physiological response.

"It's a systematic but naturalistic way to induce these emotions." Immordino-Yang said. After being told an emotional true story during a private, taped interview, the participant is simply asked to describe how he or she feels.

Immordino-Yang said she isn't surprised at the findings, though she is excited by them.

"We are an intensely social species," she said. "Our very biology is a social one. For centuries poets have described so-called gut feelings during social emotions. Now we are uncovering the biological evidence."

Future analysis of the data her team has gathered will focus on discovering to what degree culture and individual styles and experiences influence these reactions, as well as how they develop in children and how they can be promoted by education.

This research was supported by the Brain and Creativity Institute, the USC Provost's grant for Advancing Scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Rossier School of Education.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southern California. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. H. Immordino-Yang. Me, My "Self" and You: Neuropsychological Relations between Social Emotion, Self-Awareness, and Morality. Emotion Review, 2011; 3 (3): 313 DOI: 10.1177/1754073911402391

Cite This Page:

University of Southern California. "Brain co-opts the body to promote moral behavior, study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 July 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110707092443.htm>.
University of Southern California. (2011, July 8). Brain co-opts the body to promote moral behavior, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110707092443.htm
University of Southern California. "Brain co-opts the body to promote moral behavior, study finds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110707092443.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) A study by German researchers claims watching TV while you're stressed out can make you feel guilty and like a failure. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

AFP (July 24, 2014) China's elderly population is expanding so quickly that children struggle to look after them, pushing them to do something unexpected in Chinese society- move their parents into a nursing home. Duration: 02:07 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Newsy (July 23, 2014) An 8-year-old boy helped his younger brother, who has a rare genetic condition that's confined him to a wheelchair, finish a triathlon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins