Brain Injury Demonstrated to Affect Moral Judgment


Science (Rotters) – In findings presented yesterday in the online journal Nurture, scientists have demonstrated that subtle damage to an area of the brain referred to as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex resulted in often bizarre moral choices, often referred to as “compassionate conservatism”, in affected individuals. In a study of six anonymous Republicans, those with what appears now to be a relatively common injury to this particular area to the brain freely expressed an increased willingness to kill or harm others if doing so might advance their own fortunes in some way.

The findings are the most direct evidence that Republicans’ passion for hurting others relies in part in neural anatomy and subtle damage to higher brain regions responsible for analysis and planning.

Previous studies had shown that this region was a crossroads for pathways involving moral judgment and higher decision-making. The new study confirms that what is at work in the damaged area of the Republican brain is a self-serving emotional enmeshment which overrides and degrades pathways responsible for analysis and planning as well as decision-making. In typical circumstances, Republicans with the injury will even rationalize endorsing a woman’s right to aborting a fetus if that would save them money.

“We have overwhelming evidence that this is indeed the system that has gone awry when people beginning exhibiting compassionate conservatism”, said Dr. Michael Myers a psychologist who co-authored the study. “The system which performs the utilitarian cost- benefit analysis in these people has clearly been destroyed, seemingly by an invasive cancer from other areas of the brain.”

The study’s findings could have legal implications in unfolding bribery and corruption cases across the United States as well as in the highly publicized possibility of obstruction of justice charges which could be leveled at the Bush administration as a result of the ongoing US Attorney firing scandal.

“This area, when working correctly, gives rise to social counterbalancing emotions such as embarrassment, guilt and compassion that are critical in modulating moral decision-making,” stated Myers. “Absent this necessary counterbalance, individuals are capable of unimaginable and monstrous decisions, with no qualms as to any type of moral consequences. In extreme cases they even become convinced that the acts themselves are indeed moral. One of the individuals from the study even told me, “Jeez, it’s not really killing if we’re fighting terror.””

Myers went on to explain that much of the work was still ahead for the team to become better able at imaging the subtle damage for clinicians. One individual in the study had no findings on MRI, but had a clear history earlier in life for substance abuse, and multiple accidents on a bicycle as well as a Segway in later life. Metabolic activity recorded on a subsequent PET scan revealed diffuse atrophy of the frontal cortex including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex which resulted in a petulant, arrogant personality with almost no regard for the opinions of others.

“A sad way to think about it,” said Myers, “is that we used to have this well-established emotional counterbalance system built-in, but over the years Republican culture and values have worked at the neuronal level to kill it off.”