Imagine this scenario: A woman and her friend are touring a chemical factory. They come to a coffee machine and, next to it, a container labeled “toxic.” The woman sees the label but goes ahead and scoops a powdery white substance from the container into a cup of coffee she has brewed for her friend. The friend drinks the coffee but is unharmed, because it turns out the powder was only sugar.Most people would say the woman’s actions were morally repugnant. However, in a new study, patients with damage to a part of the brain known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC) reacted very differently. They were unable to conjure a normal emotional response to the situation, and based their judgment only on the outcome — that is, no harm was done. In their view, the friend’s actions were morally permissible.That suggests that the human brain’s ability to respond appropriately...
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