Nav: Home

It's the thought that counts: The neuro-anatomical basis of forgiveness revealed

April 10, 2017

A sports person who has accidentally caused serious injury to a rival. A distracted driver who has caused an accident. Or a colleague who has involuntarily made a very serious error. Even outside the court room we have all been in situations in which we have had to express judgements on specific events on the basis of the seriousness of the incident but also on the intentions of those who caused them. New research by Trieste's SISSA, published in the Scientific Reports journal, has studied the areas of the brain involved in processes which prompt us to forgive those who have seriously, but unintentionally, messed up. Researchers specifically examined the role of a part of the brain, called anterior superior temporal sulcus (aSTS), and discovered that the larger the amount of grey matter in this patch of cortex, the more likely we are to forgive those who have made a serious mistake by accident.

"Behavioural studies have already shown that when the intention and outcome of an action are conflicting, as in the case of sometimes serious accidental harm, people tend to focus mainly on the intentions when formulating a judgement. And this is more or less a universal feature of mature moral judgments across cultures", says Indrajeet Patil, a young Indian scientist, the research's primary author and the scholar who carried out this study at Trieste's SISSA before leaving for Harvard University where he continued his academic work. "To date, however, very few studies have taken on this issue from an anatomical point of view, to gain an understanding of whether differences in the volume and structure of certain areas of the brain might explain variations in moral judgement. This research attempted to explore precisely this aspect".

The research team, led by Giorgia Silani, currently researcher at Vienna University, jointly with Trieste University and Boston College, subjected 50 volunteers to a questionnaire in which 36 stories with 4 potential situations were presented to them: "Those in which intentional actions could have negative or neutral outcomes. And those in which accidental events could lead to negative or neutral consequences", explains Silani. "In each story participants had to express a judgement on a scale of 1 to 7 and answer two questions: "How responsible should the individual involved in this story be considered?" and "How morally acceptable is the individual's behaviour?". All participants were subjected to magnetic resonance to obtain data on the functioning and structure of their brains". The images acquired in this way were then analysed for the purposes of studying the anatomy of participants' nervous systems.

"What we discovered was that the volume of grey matter present in a specific area of the brain known as the left anterior superior temporal sulcus (aSTS in jargon) seems to influence individuals' judgements. More specifically the more the aSTS is developed, the more people are inclined to be indulgent with those who have caused harm", explains Indrajeet Patil. "The aSTS was already known to be involved in the ability to represent the mental states (thoughts, beliefs, desires, etc.) of others. According to our conclusions, individuals with more grey matter at aSTS are better able to represent the mental state of those responsible for actions and thus comprehend the unintentional nature of the harm. In expressing judgement they are thus able to focus on this latter aspect and give it priority over the especially unpleasant consequences of the action. For this reason, ultimately, they are less inclined to condemn it severely". Since structural properties of the brain are physical manifestation of our genomic inheritance and the environment we grew up in, studies like this are helpful in generating exciting new research hypotheses to be investigated in future research.
-end-
http://www.sissa.it

Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati

Related Brain Articles:

Study describes changes to structural brain networks after radiotherapy for brain tumors
Researchers compared the thickness of brain cortex in patients with brain tumors before and after radiation therapy was applied and found significant dose-dependent changes in the structural properties of cortical neural networks, at both the local and global level.
Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe in brain networks
Using a sophisticated type of mathematics in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.
New brain mapping tool produces higher resolution data during brain surgery
Researchers have developed a new device to map the brain during surgery and distinguish between healthy and diseased tissues.
Newborn baby brain scans will help scientists track brain development
Scientists have today published ground-breaking scans of newborn babies' brains which researchers from all over the world can download and use to study how the human brain develops.
New test may quickly identify mild traumatic brain injury with underlying brain damage
A new test using peripheral vision reaction time could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment of mild traumatic brain injury, often referred to as a concussion.
This is your brain on God: Spiritual experiences activate brain reward circuits
Religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, report researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Brain scientists at TU Dresden examine brain networks during short-term task learning
'Practice makes perfect' is a common saying. We all have experienced that the initially effortful implementation of novel tasks is becoming rapidly easier and more fluent after only a few repetitions.
Balancing time & space in the brain: New model holds promise for predicting brain dynamics
A team of scientists has extended the balanced network model to provide deep and testable predictions linking brain circuits to brain activity.
New view of brain development: Striking differences between adult and newborn mouse brain
Spikes in neuronal activity in young mice do not spur corresponding boosts in blood flow -- a discovery that stands in stark contrast to the adult mouse brain.
Map of teenage brain provides evidence of link between antisocial behavior and brain development
The brains of teenagers with serious antisocial behavior problems differ significantly in structure to those of their peers, providing the clearest evidence to date that their behavior stems from changes in brain development in early life, according to new research led by the University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton, in collaboration with the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy.

Related Brain Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...