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Description: What brain based activations are associated with your tendency to consider causing harm to others in moral decision-making situations? Typically, we are asked questions in abstract or “hypothetical” manners. Would you consider causing pain to one person if it might result in information to needed to stop a bombing that could harms many others? Would you consider harming a few rats if it might result in a cure for Aids? Tough questions. If your answer to either questions something like “hypothetically yes, but I really don’t think I could actually do those things” then you have already understood some of what the research reported upon in the article linked below has to tell us. Have a look and see if it fits with your thinking on these questions.

Source: Mirror neuron activity predicts people’s decision-making in moral dilemmas, ScienceDaily, Science News.

Date: January 5, 2018

Photo Credit  UCLA Health

Links:  Article Link –

Mirror neurons are fascinating (well, I think, at least). Among other things, they can be viewed as the neural foundation of empathy, which is interesting because Western Psychology has struggled with the concept of empathy for decades. For example, if our behavior is largely controlled by self-interest then where is the self-interest in helping others? Well, perhaps in the functioning of mirror neurons – neurons that fire when we experience certain things AND when we observe others experiencing the same things. That could be a definition of empathy. The linked research suggests that people with string mirror neuron activation when viewing others’ pain are more likely to avoid or refuse to comply in situations where they are asked to harm others, an effect that is NOT there when the questions of harm or hypothetical, as they are in more moral dilemmas. So now, what about the application implications, now there is a can of ethical worms!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Is there a difference between responding to hypothetical “harm others” dilemmas and actually moving to initiate actions that will potentially harm others??
  2. What role might mirror neurons play in the circumstances described in the previous question?
  3. What are some of the ethical (and research) issues that arise if we consider possible applications of the research results reported in the linked article?

References (Read Further):

Moore, L., Conway, P., & Iacoboni, M. (2017). Deontological Dilemma Response Tendencies and Sensorimotor Representations of Harm to Others. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 11, 34.

Linkovski, O., Katzin, N., & Salti, M. (2017). Mirror neurons and mirror-touch synesthesia. The Neuroscientist, 23(2), 103-108.

Jalal, B., & Ramachandran, V. S. (2017). Sleep paralysis,“the ghostly bedroom intruder” and out-of-body experiences: the role of mirror neurons. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11.

Steward, M. (2017). Empathy and the Role of Mirror Neurons.

Campbell, M. E., & Cunnington, R. (2017). More than an imitation game: Top-down modulation of the human mirror system. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.