Neural Correlates of Post-Conventional Moral Reasoning
The abstract from this article:
“Going back to Kohlberg, moral development research affirms that people progress through different stages of moral reasoning as cognitive abilities mature. Individuals at a lower level of moral reasoning judge moral issues mainly based on self-interest (personal interests schema) or based on adherence to laws and rules (maintaining norms schema), whereas individuals at the post-conventional level judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals. However, the extent to which moral development is reflected in structural brain architecture remains unknown. To investigate this question, we used voxel-based morphometry and examined the brain structure in a sample of 67 Master of Business Administration (MBA) students. Subjects completed the Defining Issues Test (DIT-2) which measures moral development in terms of cognitive schema preference. Results demonstrate that subjects at the post-conventional level of moral reasoning were characterized by increased gray matter volume in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, compared with subjects at a lower level of moral reasoning. Our findings support an important role for both cognitive and emotional processes in moral reasoning and provide first evidence for individual differences in brain structure according to the stages of moral reasoning first proposed by Kohlberg decades ago.”
In this paper Greene describes the dual-process brain, the fast automatic setting and the slower manual mode. From the conclusion: “Our brains, like all complex functional systems, face a tradeoff between efficiency and flexibility. To promote efficiency, our brains have point-and-shoot automatic settings in the form of intuitive emotional responses. These are marvelous, but nonetheless limited in what they can do. In particular, we should not expect them to perform well in the face of peculiarly modern problems, ones with which we have inadequate genetic, cultural, and individual experience. Many of the most important moral problems we face may be… Read more »
And this Greene interview on the evolution of morality.
“Biologically at least, we only evolved to cooperate in a tribal way. Individuals who were more moral—more cooperative with those around them—could outcompete others who were not. However, we have the capacity to take a step back from this and ask what a more global morality would look like. […] If a morality is a system that allows individuals to form a group and to get along with each other, then the challenge is to devise a system that allows different groups to get along—what I call a meta-morality.”
Also see Joshua Greene’s work on moral cognition. This link has several studies he’s done on both quick and slow moral processes, roughly analogous to Haidt’s intuitional and Kohlberg’s rational traits.
The abstract from “Another look at moral foundations theory“: “Moral foundations theorists propose that the moral domain should include not only ‘‘liberal’’ ethics of justice and care but also ostensibly ‘‘conservative’’ concerns about the virtues of ingroup loyalty, obedience to authority, and enforcement of purity standards. This proposal clashes with decades of research in political psychology connecting the latter set of characteristics to ‘‘the authoritarian personality.’’ We demonstrate that liberal-conservative differences in moral intuitions are statistically mediated by authoritarianism and social dominance orientation, so that conservatives’ greater valuation of ingroup, authority, and purity concerns is attributable to higher levels of… Read more »