12 Jun Pre-Frontal Brain Cortex Size Linked To Moral Reasoning
MedicalResearch: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Dr. Prehn: The study is based on the theory by renowned American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg stating that people progress through different levels of moral reasoning. At lower levels, individuals judge moral issues based on self-interest or laws and rules. Individuals at the post-conventional level also take into account deeper principles and shared ideals. The Kohlbergian theory influenced moral psychology and education for decades. No study to date, however, had investigated in which way moral development is reflected in human brain structure and function.
In our study, we compared gray matter brain volume in healthy young subjects who either reached the post-conventional level or did not reach that level so far. We found that subjects at the post-conventional level showed larger volume in a specific brain region of the prefrontal cortex which is essential for moral reasoning as well as the integration of emotion and cognition during human behavior.
MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Prehn: For the first time, Kohlberg’s influential theory on moral development is supported by neuroscientific evidence. The study offers exciting insights into the brain and shows that subjects at different levels of moral reasoning differ in brain structure. In the future, this technique might also be used to evaluate at a neuroscientific level the efficacy of educational approaches fostering moral development.
MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Prehn: The current results are exciting, however, many questions still remain open. For instance, it is presently unclear how different levels of moral reasoning map on to cognitive abilities that are central to moral reasoning, such as perspective taking, empathy, awareness of moral issues and the needs of other people. Moreover, it is not know whether the observed brain structural changes are the cause or the effect of higher moral development. Finally, we also aim to investigate the effects of educational programs (such as formal ethics training) on changes in brain structure and function in a longitudinal approach.
Dr. rer. nat. Kristin Prehn, Dipl.-Psych., Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Department of Neurology & NeuroCure Clinical Research Cente, & Berlin Germany (2015). Pre-Frontal Brain Cortex Size Linked To Moral Reasoning MedicalResearch.com
Last Updated on June 12, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD