Powered by Blogger.

Moral choice: fairness, utility, and the insula

Sunday, May 18, 2008

We continue to learn more about the neuropsychological basis of moral thinking and moral emotions in humans:

Justice In The Brain: Equity And Efficiency Are Encoded Differently (5/8/08)
Which is better, giving more food to a few hungry people or letting some food go to waste so that everyone gets a share" A study appearing in Science finds that most people choose the latter, and that the brain responds in unique ways to inefficiency and inequity.

The study, by researchers at the University of Illinois and the California Institute of Technology, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of people making a series of tough decisions about how to allocate donations to children in a Ugandan orphanage.

There are two main issues regarding moral decision making here.

The first involves two separate principles often used in analyzing moral/ethical problems related to the distribution of goods within a group of people. (The group might be children in a family or different classes of people in a society, among many possibilities.) On one hand, it is generally regarded as "good" to maximize "equity" in moral decisions, so that some individuals are not favored over others without significant justification. (I prefer the term "fairness" for this.)

On the other hand, it is also regarded as "good" to maximize "efficiency", so that the greatest total amount of benefit accrues to a group as a whole. (I prefer the term "utility" for this.)

But these principles can come into conflict, and the research discussed here investigates a contrived, but sharp, example. Philosophers of ethics call such dilemmas the problem of "distributive justice".

The second issue concerns the style of thinking that a decision maker faced with this kind of dilemma does use, and also, perhaps, what style the decision maker "should" use. On one hand, the decider might try to systematically and logically apply some standard set of rules that are considered appropriate for the situation. But on the other hand, the decider might rely more on emotional factors that indicate what "feels right", the "gut feeling", about what seems "right" in a concrete situation.

Philosophers often describe these two alternatives as "cognitivist" vs. "sentimentalist". The former is sometimes associated with the philosopher Immanuel Kant, and the latter with David Hume.

What emerges from the research is (not surprisingly) that individual decision makers differ in the degree that they favor "equity" vs. "efficiency", and also whether they tend to rely more on logic or emotion to make their decisions.

More interestingly, most people normally process considerations of both equity and efficiency in order to reach a decision, but different parts of the brain are used for the two. Likewise, in making the decision, distinct parts of the brain which normally handle emotional or logical processing can become involved in processing the equity/efficiency trade-off.

One way to think of this is that there are separate calculations of both equity and efficiency that are made for each available choice. And then the result of those calculations are fed to separate subsystems to weigh the alternatives.

The different moral and ethical decisions that different people will arrive at can be attributed to individual differences as to how the various stages of the decision process are handled. For instance, an individual may favor equity over efficiency, and tend to use emotion rather than logic to reach the decision.

Here's what the study found:
In these trails, subjects overwhelmingly chose to preserve equity at the expense of efficiency, Hsu said. "They were all quite inequity averse." The findings support other studies that show that most people are fairly intolerant of inequity.

The animation, in conjunction with the fMRI, allowed the researchers to view activity in the brain at critical moments in the decision-making process. After analyzing the data, they found that different brain regions -- the insula, putamen and caudate -- were activated differently, and at different points in the process, Hsu said.

Activation of the insula varied from trial to trial in relation to changes in equity, while activity in the putamen corresponded to changes in efficiency, he said.

In contrast, the caudate appeared to integrate both equity and efficiency once a decision was made.

The role of the insula (or, more formally, insular cortex) is especially interesting, since this brain region has been associated with quite a few other types of social-emotional mental processing. We'll come back to that in a moment. But here are the conclusions of the researchers:
The involvement of the insula appears to support the notion that emotion plays a role in a person's attitude towards inequity, Hsu said.

The insula is known to play a key role in the awareness of bodily states and emotions. Studies have shown that it is activated in people experiencing hunger or drug-related cravings, and in those feeling intense emotions such as anger, fear, disgust or happiness. Other research has implicated the insula in mediating fairness. ...

Together, the results "show how the brain encodes two considerations central to the distributive justice calculus and shed light on the cognitivist/sentimentalist debate regarding the psychological underpinnings of distributive justice," the authors wrote.

Here's how another report about this research summed it up:

Your Brain on Ethics (5/8/08)
The fMRI scans contain hints of how these two factors might be encoded by the brain. The insula, a brain region linked to processing emotion, became more active when subjects considered more inequitable distributions of meals; it was also more active in subjects whose choices suggested a greater-than-average aversion to inequity. Activity in another region, the putamen, seemed to track the common good, rising in proportion to the total number of meals that could be donated in a given case.


Now let's have a quick overview of the insula. Turns out that it's involved in a lot more than just moral decision-making. Here's a general article from a bit over a year ago:

A Small Part of the Brain, and Its Profound Effects (2/6/07)
According to neuroscientists who study it, the insula is a long-neglected brain region that has emerged as crucial to understanding what it feels like to be human.

They say it is the wellspring of social emotions, things like lust and disgust, pride and humiliation, guilt and atonement. It helps give rise to moral intuition, empathy and the capacity to respond emotionally to music. ...

If it does everything, what exactly is it that it does?

For example, the insula “lights up” in brain scans when people crave drugs, feel pain, anticipate pain, empathize with others, listen to jokes, see disgust on someone’s face, are shunned in a social settings, listen to music, decide not to buy an item, see someone cheat and decide to punish them, and determine degrees of preference while eating chocolate.

Damage to the insula can lead to apathy, loss of libido and an inability to tell fresh food from rotten. ...

Of course, like every important brain structure, the insula — there are actually two, one on each side of the brain — does not act alone. It is part of multiple circuits.

The insula itself is a sort of receiving zone that reads the physiological state of the entire body and then generates subjective feelings that can bring about actions, like eating, that keep the body in a state of internal balance. Information from the insula is relayed to other brain structures that appear to be involved in decision making, especially the anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortices.

Stay tuned. We'll be discussing the insula quite a bit more here, I think.

Further reading:

  • The Right and the Good: Distributive Justice and Neural Encoding of Equity and Efficiency – Original research report published 5/8/08 at Science Express (sub. rqd. for full access)

  • Which Orphans Do You Want to Starve? – Blog article by Sharon Begley at Newsweek

  • How Fairness Is Wired In The Brain – 5/28/08 press release about the research dealing with fairness and the insula

    Tags: , , , , , ,
  • No comments:

    Post a Comment

     

    Knowledge Link Suggest

    Drug Abuse Online Lottery Games Drug Abuse Health and Fitness Health and Fitness free music downloads Law Reports Wallpapers Artist online shop originals Product Auto Parts Web Developer online shop originals Product Insurance Company Health Life Technology System Home Security Beauty Cosmetic Online Travel Agency Linux Tips Guide Shooting Simulator Gadgets Technology Project Build Houses Payday Loans Health News Information Animals Shop Travel Agency North Owl Network Dentist Healthy Aging asian pretty The Tool Hospital Barbecook Best way to make Money with Forex Trading Green Home Design Online Lottery atozbythesea.eu.org augmentezvosventes.eu.org automobielbedrijf.eu.org aworldofwindows.eu.org aws-orgware.eu.org azregionalmls.eu.org bacimamma.eu.org Business Plan Competition travel channel and rental cars Pharmacy and drugs Criminal Justice Planning Agency Lawyers Association The Best of Insurance http://celebritytidings.eu.org http://livingandfashion.eu.org Academic Advising Audio logo Stock Audio auto repair advice guide Healthy Women Medical Centre busy with business Car Finance Tools Debt Settlement Lawyer crafty stash corner cuentas and colors Cheap Wedding Dresses drug abuse statistics Lifestyle Home Solutions education essay titles finance insurance premium Lawyer and Legal Information guide healthy recipes health problems of children health topics kids home decorating service home improvement project home improvement project management home improvement project planning home insurance morgages house insurance plan house insurance progressive The Savings Bank insurance agency business loans insurance business loans insurance premium loan legacy landscape blocks legacy landscape contractors legacy landscape materials personal insurance loan real estate for commercial Bedroom Furniture Lawyer Requirements Concept Design teach about alcohol abuse technology support autocar the family deal tile flooring ideas tips lifetime fitness tips reduce car insurance quotes Online Jewelry Stores traveller hotel Insurance and Finance Auto and Parts wood flooring ideas the networks board game Adult Learning Theories sexy lingerie tattoo designs wallpaper artist health category insurance financial category Category Online Money Category Home Improvement online business category Category software games and android category marketing advertising category marketing advertising Home Solution Real Estate Financing Lucepedia Sports and Fitness Train Now Business Economy Global auto car loans car loans insurance Health Information how to prevent diabetes Best Credit Cards Cheap Wedding Dresses Small Business Finance Systems Body Health Home Improvement Services Guide Android Apps and Games fashion design Alcoholism Android Phones Board Games Cheap Tickets and Vacation Packages Online Prevent Child Obesity Prevent Premature Ejaculation Labor Lawyers Home Interior Design Ideas plumbers and carpet cleaning service diet and slimming Beautiful Picture Doctors Dental Care music video art BurningPedia Guide Planning Home Improvement Beauty Cosmetic Web Development Company lawyer requirements Books On Children Education security innovation work iPhone and iPad Turkey The Medical School Barbecue Electric The Linux Documentation Project Mental Health Care New Car Buying Guide House Curtains Dentist All System Education iPhone Specifications Cloud Trading Strategy mortgages and loans Pharmaceutical Info Online Application Service Provider The Masterchef Business Service Delivery Arts and Entertainment Pokerstars Real Money The Masterchef Electric Motors Gadgets Technology Casino Zone Small Business Solutions Home Advice Fashion Design Clothing Adventure Games Health and Fitness Hospital Equipment Plan Life Insurance public transportation services Prevent Premature Ejaculation Best Professional Carpet Cleaning Web Hosting Vehicle Emissions Inspection Drug Abuse Collection Travel Agency Medical Herbs color vision casting Aromatherapy Tips community film Cardio Tips Top Best Home Improvements Article Marketing Colon Cleanse Tips Terms and Conditions of Sale Products for Treating Acne Scars Natural Beauty Products Seo Web Marketing Business Prospects Trade Online Tool House Cleaner Bathing Equipment Financial Solutions Credit Loans Business Insurance Best Supplements Online Affiliate Marketing Web Design Jobs Online Business Degrees Travel and Leisure Hotel Business Online Payment Processor Women Management Criminal Law Marketing Product Webdesign Transportation Services The Marketing Business Prospects Trade Online Shop bed furniture free movies online Direct Hardware Supply Free Download PDF Technology Ipad doctors Specials Medical Dictionary Legacy Landscape Bank South Pacific Carpet Cleaner Best Internet Business Seo Web Marketing Doctor Healthy Doctors Diet Program Health Benefits of Drinking Water ups pills drugs Best Supplements dynasty fine jewelry Ceramic Floor Tile Online Business Degrees Property Residential and Commercial Real Estate All About Medical Bankruptcy Prevent Child Obesity Handbag and Shoes Education of Children physiotherapy school Cheap Airline Tickets Healthy Life PET online Interzoo Rehabilitation Center electric hybrid vehicles Baidu Software Center Automotive Advertising Agencies Health and Care Virtual private network Student Education Technosound Wedding Dresses excel archives Classic Car Restoration Defense Audit Banking Travel and holiday Forex Trading Jobs Cheap Car Insurance Opening the Book Safe Chemical Act Presspeople System Software Plan Life Insurance Top Best Home Improvements Cheap Car Insurance Auto Parts and Service Swiss Business Acting in Real Time Fitness Equipment Tips Bodybuilding Tips Search Engine Optimization Cardio Tips Beauty Salon Express The Best Advice Lawyer Advice Associated With Online Payday Spa and Wellness Center Packages Holiday Travel European Countries Tours Small Business Finance Electronic Cigarette Commercial Law Advice on Travel Planning Home and Family All System Education Graphic Visual Photo business between countries Shop Online Financial Security Authority Latest Fashion Trends Photoshop Wallpaper Real Estate Agents Micro Cogeneration Beauty Products Business Travel Insurance International Trucks For Sale Hair Tonic Top Web Design Business Financial Touring Start Vehicle Emissions Inspection Business Service Delivery Insurance and Finance Web Design Business Shopping Online Insurance Processing Systems Electric System Vehicle Blood Medicine European Vehicle Market Pharmaceutical Section Home sale Beauty Therapy Acupuncture Recipes Kitchen Restaurant Hardwood Flooring Resident Services The Masterchef Employment and the Economy Free Web Design Paint Creations Travel Insurance SEO Consulting Services Car Insurance Loans Doctors Dental Care Vehicle Wash Systems Search Engine Marketing Online Education Schools Natural Beauty Site Cheap Wedding Dresses annuaire automobile episiotomy and pregnant Westerly Lawyers Healthcare Travel Vacations Cheap iPhone Specifications The ReaL Estate Event Online Pharmacy and Drugstore Music Video Art CareCredit Cloud Trading Strategy House Cleaning Services Interoperability the talent agency Good Home Design shooting simulator Independent Port Services The Hotel Sax The Digital Money Booking Tickets and Hotels Online Business Loans Department of Pharmacy Law Free Credit Report football development Trending in Entertainment Prison Education Sexy Lingerie Wood Flooring Ideas Dealer Optics and Ophthalmology Car Insurance Online Urbanism and Architecture Electronic money International Conference on Education Dental Care Auto Repair Shop Auto Repair Advice Guide Dental Clinic Online Pharmacy Debt Consolidation Loans Free Software Smartphone Advice on benefits Insurance Providence Real Estate Product Research Analyst Product Research Facilitator Fashion Magazine Substance Abuse Education And Technology Marketing Strategy The Best Payday Advance Incident Report Criminal Accounting Books Caring for Pets Real Estate Financing Banking Software Solutions Financial Solutions Credit Loans Full Service Research Agency Discover our free games Business Prospects Trade Online Restaurant Hood Cleaning how to start a business Women's Health and Beauty Payday Loans Criminal Attorney Lawyers Travel and Tourism Fashion Designer The Food Products Fitness and Sports The Beginner's Guide to Businesses Tips To Make SEO Techniques Online Payday Loans Medical Advocate Englisch Training Online Drivers Education Auto Parts and Service Best hotels cheap sport shoes Dental Work Insurance Company Android Phones Financial Advice Service Mobile phone Free Credit Report  The Hair Tonic Advantage Car Rental Information Civil Law Information Payday Cash Loans Payday Cash Loans Advance Affordable Auto Insurance Effective Quality Services Car seats Product Interactions Specialist Medicina Natural Traveller and Hotel European Investment Bank Vehicle Electrical System Pet Food Shop Online Lawyer Employment Plaza Ballroom Weddings Art School The best form of insurance solutions Advice on benefits Insurance Medical coding Tutor Buying Safe Products Free Online Game Famous Fashion Designers Education in Music Virtual Currency Systems Learn Trading Folktronica music Digital currency Manufacturing Engineering Technology Fashionista The Money System Explained Good Marketing In Business Technology Ipad Real Estate Bubble CarePass for Android Business Direct Marketing Carpet Cleaner Natural Beauty Products Seo Web Marketing Business Prospects Trade Online Tool House Cleaner Bathing Equipment Financial Solutions Credit Loans Business Insurance Best Supplements Online Affiliate Marketing Web Design Jobs Online Business Degrees Travel and Leisure Hotel Property Residential and Commercial Real Estate All About Medical Bankruptcy Prevent Child Obesity Handbag and Shoes Education of Children Women Management Free Online Slots Games Healthy Life PET online Interzoo Sunrise Health and Rehabilitation Center Presspeople System Software Baidu Software Center Scientific Entrepreneurship Automotive Advertising Agencies Health and Care Virtual private network Student Education Technosound Information network energy sources Niche Dating Classic Car Restoration Defense Audit Banking Travel and holiday Safe Chemical Act Leader in internet information Music Electric The Marketing verb translation country island FILM LITERATURE GOLD STATUS A Short History of Movies Sexy Lingerie Classified ads Inspire Home Design Trauma Clinic Finance Investment Business Marketing Acting in Real Time Glasgow Tourism Herbal Medicine Cheap Car Insurance Quotes Health Pregnancy Professional Graphic and New Media Designers Legal Connect Network Generating Money Online Oregon health plan Slow Cooker Recipes Best Internet Business Terms and Conditions of Sale Products for Treating Acne Scars Hardwoods Furniture Green Tea Fitness Equipment Tips Bodybuilding Tips Forex Trading Article Marketing Colon Cleanse Tips Hair Loss Tips List Building Search Engine Optimization Cardio Tips Aromatherapy Tips Medical Weight Loss Clinic The Benefits Of Moving Insurance Travel Advice Online Dating Security Network Information Green Energy Scheme Group Auto International Business Telecommunication International All Medicine Reviews Marketplace Real Estate Review Clothing Style Management Consulting Real estate Natural Medicine Treatment Natural Beauty Skin Care Products Shop online Marketing Bank rent car guide Fishing Games cheap website traffic Health and Beauty Gambling football Clothes and Accessories Garden and Landscaping Portal Game Online E-commerce Business Car Accident Lawyer Criminal Law Best free Android apps Hotel and Travel Jobs Technology Film Industry Free Music Downloads Solar Installation Search Engine Optimization Life Technologies Football Betting Site Substance Abuse Apartments home improvement contractor job Luxury Car News Law Products and Services Business Web Hosting Company Complaints Diabetes Drug Abuse Marketing Product Make Money Online Living Without Money Apartments Luxury Car News Law Products and Services Growth Technologies Articles on business growth technologies information Health Insurance Management Advisors System Solar Panel Online Trading The Best of Insurance Payday Loans for Bad Credit Financial Solutions Credit Loans Ensure Insurance Plan Financial Management Team Payday Loans Reviews Distributed File System Student Loan Payments Cheap Insurance in Los Angeles Favorite Fashion Styles The Best Savings Rates Manage Student Loans Webshop europe business guide Shop Personal Loans debt consolidation loans Personal Loan Repayment Chiropractic Tables Webdesign Management Concepts Android Software Free Internet Solution the online casino Best Small Business Blogs Sound Beginnings Automotive Electrical Systems Skin Care in Centrum Master Ethique Cher Client Agency Law Sell Products Online Mens Shoes Strategy Business Development Women's shoes Headache Causes Shop Online Clothing Online Pharmacy Healthy Aging Battle Games best electric vehicle Commercial Real Estate Cosmetic Beauty Product Health Medicine Pharmacy Image of the Orient Fashion Jewellery

    Blog Archive