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Grown ups more morally sensitive towards accidental damage than kids

May 28, 2011 - Washington

According to a new study conducted at the University of Chicago, changes in the brain circuitry influence the moral sensitivity of a person as he grows.

Researchers revealed that adults are less likely than children to think someone should be punished for damaging an object, especially if the action was accidental.

This happens since the brain becomes better equipped to make reasoned judgments and integrate an understanding of the mental states of others with the outcome of their actions.

Researchers examined the eye tracking, brain scanning and behavioral changes of 127 participants, aged 4 to 36.

The participants were shown 96 video clips that portrayed intentional harm, such as someone being shoved, accidental harm, such as someone being struck accidentally and intentional damage to objects.

Eye tracking in the scanner revealed that all of the participants, irrespective of their age paid more attention to people being harmed and to objects being damaged than they did to the perpetrators.

Participants were also asked to determine how mean was the perpetrator, and how much punishment should he receive for causing damage or injury.

The responses showed a clear connection between moral judgments and the activation the team had observed in the brain.

"Whereas young children had a tendency to consider all the perpetrator malicious, irrespective of intention and targets (people and objects), as participants aged, they perceived the perpetrator as clearly less mean when carrying out an accidental action, and even more so when the target was an object," said Jean Decety, professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago.

The study has been published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.


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