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.

Related Articles


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 March 3, 2015 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 March 3, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

This Nasal Treatment Could Help Ease Migraine Pain

This Nasal Treatment Could Help Ease Migraine Pain

Newsy (Mar. 2, 2015) Researchers gave lidocaine to 112 patients, and about 88 percent of the subjects said they needed less migraine-relief medicine the next day. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Facebook Use Can Lead To Depression

How Facebook Use Can Lead To Depression

Newsy (Mar. 1, 2015) Margaret Duffy of the University of Missouri talks about her study on the social network and the envy and depression that Facebook use can cause. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Foods to Battle Stress

The Best Foods to Battle Stress

Buzz60 (Feb. 26, 2015) If you&apos;re dealing with anxiety, there are a few foods that can help. Krystin Goodwin (@krystingoodwin) has the best foods to tame stress. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little Might Increase Stroke Risk

Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little Might Increase Stroke Risk

Newsy (Feb. 26, 2015) People who sleep more than eight hours per night are 45 percent more likely to have a stroke, according to a University of Cambridge study. 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

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