• Question: Which part of the brain controls the sense of right and wrong?

    Asked by Cameron to Sally on 11 Mar 2019.
    • Photo: Sally Tilt

      Sally Tilt answered on 11 Mar 2019:


      I haven’t seen anyone else ask this question – and it is a cracker!

      The quick answer is probably no – making a moral decision about what is right or wrong is a complex decision and involves many parts of the brain. But that doesn’t mean that people haven’t tried to find out …

      So what is interesting is that it looks like different areas of the brain are involved in different types of decisions about what is right and wrong. One of the studies that has been used to test this is the ‘trolley decision’ in which people are told that they can divert a train which is out of a control, which is on course to kill 5 people – if they pull a lever it will go onto a different track and kill just 1 person. Scanning people’s brains when they make this decision shows that it uses a part of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

      However – if you change the test, so that the person has to push someone off a bridge (bit harsh!) in order to save the 5 people, then a different part of the brain becomes active – one that is generally involved in emotion processing.

      These are obviously situations that people take part in during a laboratory test – it looks like in real life moral dilemma situations, a different part of a person’s brain again is involved.

      So in summary – no, moral decisions about right and wrong probably involve all sorts of areas of our brain.

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