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The Experimental Psychology of Moral Enhancement: We Should If We Could, But We Can't

  • Sylvia Terbeck (a1) and Kathryn B. Francis (a1)

Abstract

In this chapter we will review experimental evidence related to pharmacological moral enhancement. Firstly, we will present our recent study in which we found that a drug called propranolol could change moral judgements. Further research, which also investigated this, found similar results. Secondly, we will discuss the limitations of such approaches, when it comes to the idea of general “human enhancement”. Whilst promising effects on certain moral concepts might be beneficial to the development of theoretical moral psychology, enhancement of human moral behaviour in general – to our current understanding – has more side-effects than intended effects, making it potentially harmful. We give an overview of misconceptions when taking experimental findings beyond the laboratory and discuss the problems and solutions associated with the psychological assessment of moral behaviour. Indeed, how is morality “measured” in psychology, and are those measures reliable?

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2 Greene, J. D., Sommerville, R. B., Nystrom, L. E., Darley, J. M., and Cohen, J. D., ‘An fMRI Investigation of Emotional Engagement in Moral Judgment’, Science 293:5537 (2001), 21052108.

3 Foot, P., Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy (New York, USA: Oxford University Press, 1978). See also Thomson, J. J., ‘Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem’, Monist 59:2 (1976), 204217.

4 For a description of the mechanism of chemical neurotransmission see Terbeck, et al., ‘Noradrenaline Effects on Social Behaviour, Intergroup Relations, and Moral Decisions’, 54–60.

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7 Greene, et al., ‘An fMRI Investigation of Emotional Engagement in Moral Judgment’, 2105–2108.

8 Terbeck, S., Kahane, G., McTavish, S., Savulescu, J., Levy, N., Hewstone, M., and Cowen, P. J., ‘Beta Adrenergic Blockade Reduces Utilitarian Judgement’, Biological Psychology 92:2 (2013), 323328.

9 For example see Kirsch, I., Deacon, B. J., Huedo-Medina, T. B., Scoboria, A., Moore, T. J., and Johnson, B. T., ‘Initial Severity and Antidepressant Benefits: A Meta-Analysis of Data Submitted to the Food and Drug Administration’, PLoS Med. 5:2 (2008), 260268.

10 Crockett, M. J., Clark, L., Hauser, M. D., and Robbins, T. W., ‘Serotonin Selectively Influences Moral Judgment and Behavior Through Effects on Harm Aversion’,  Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 107:40 (2010), 1743317438.

11 De Dreu, C. K. W., Greer, L. L., Van Kleef, G. A., Shalvi, S., and Handgraaf, M. J. J., ‘Oxytocin Promotes Human Ethnocentrism’, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:4 (2011), 12621266.

12 For a review see Levy, N., Douglas, T., Kahane, G., Terbeck, S., Cowen, P. J., Hewstone, M., and Savulescu, J., ‘Are You Morally Modified? The Moral Effects of Widely Used Pharmaceuticals’, Philos Psychiatr Psychol. 21:2 (2014), 111125.

13 For example see Zak, P. J., Stanton, A. A., and Ahmadi, S., ‘Oxytocin Increases Generosity in Humans’, PLoS One 2:11 (2007), 15.

14 Terbeck, S., Kahane, G., McTavish, S., McCutcheon, R., Hewstone, M., Savulescu, J., and Norbury, R., ‘Beta-Adrenoceptor Blockade Modulates Fusiform Gyrus Activity to Black versus White Faces’, Psychopharmacology (Berl.) 232:16 (2015), 29512958. See also Terbeck, S., Kahane, G., McTavish, S., Savulescu, J., Cowen, P. J., and Hewstone, M., ‘Propranolol Reduces Implicit Negative Racial Bias’, Psychopharmacology 222:3 (2012), 419424.

15 Terbeck, S., Akkus, F., Chesterman, L. P., and Hasler, G., ‘The Role of Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor 5 in the Pathogenesis of Mood Disorders and Addiction: Combining Preclinical Evidence with Human Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Studies’, Front Neurosci. 9:86 (2015), 110.

16 De Jongh, R., Bolt, I., Schermer, M., and Olivier, B., ‘Botox for the Brain: Enhancement of Cognition, Mood and Pro-Social Behavior and Blunting of Unwanted Memories’, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 32:4 (2008), 760776.

17 Kirsch, I., Deacon, B. J., Huedo-Medina, T. B., Scoboria, A., Moore, T. J., and Johnson, B. T., ‘Initial Severity and Antidepressant Benefits: A Meta-Analysis of Data Submitted to the Food and Drug Administration’, PLoS Med. 5:2 (2008), 260268.

18 Silver, J. M., Yudofsky, S. C., Slater, J. A., Gold, R. K., Stryer, B. L., Williams, D. T., Wolland, H., and Endicott, J., ‘Propranolol Treatment of Chronically Hospitalized Aggressive Patients’, J. Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 11:3 (1999), 328335.

19 For example, see Douglas, T., ‘Moral Enhancement’, in Savulescu, J., ter Meulen, R., and Kahane, G. (eds), Enhancing Human Capacities (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 467485.

20 Terbeck, S. and Chesterman, L. P., ‘Will There Ever Be a Drug With No or Negligible Side Effects? Evidence From Neuroscience’, Neuroethics 7:2 (2014), 189194.

21 Terbeck, et al., ‘Will There Ever Be a Drug With No or Negligible Side Effects? Evidence From Neuroscience’, 189–194.

22 Doris, J. M., ‘Introduction’, in Doris, J. M. (ed.), The Moral Psychology Handbook (New York, USA: Oxford University Press, 2010), 12.

23 See Bartels, D. M., Bauman, C. W., Cushman, F. A., Pizarro, D. A., and McGraw, A. P., ‘Moral Judgment and Decision Making’, in Keren, G. and Wu, G. (eds), The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Judgment and Decision Making (Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2015), 478515. See also Cushman, F., Young, L., and Greene, J., ‘Our Multi-System Moral Psychology: Towards a Consensus View’, in Doris, J. M. (ed.), The Moral Psychology Handbook (New York, USA: Oxford University Press, 2010), 4771.

24 Thomson, Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem, 204–217.

See also Foot, Virtues and Vices.

25 Greene, et al., ‘An fMRI Investigation of Emotional Engagement in Moral Judgment’, 2105–2108.

26 Christensen, J. F., and Gomila, A., ‘Moral Dilemmas in Cognitive Neuroscience of Moral Decision-Making: A Principled Review’, Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 36:4 (2012), 1250.

27 Hauser, M., Cushman, F., Young, L., Jin, R. Kang-Xing, and Mikhail, J., ‘A Dissociation Between Moral Judgments and Justifications’, Mind & Language 22:1 (2007), 121.

28 Christensen and Gomila, ‘Moral Dilemmas in Cognitive Neuroscience of Moral Decision-Making: A Principled Review’, 1249–1264.

29 Bartels, et al., ‘Moral Judgment and Decision Making’, 154–161.

30 Tassy, S., Oullier, O., Mancini, J., and Wicker, B., ‘Discrepancies Between Judgment and Choice of Action in Moral Dilemmas’, Frontiers in Psychology 4:250 (2013), 18.

31 Petrinovich, L. and O'Neill, P., ‘Influence of Wording and Framing Effects on Moral Intuitions’, Ethology and Sociobiology 17:3 (1996), 145171.

32 Kahane, G., Everett, J. A., Earp, B. D., Farias, M., and Savulescu, P., ‘Utilitarian Judgments in Sacrificial Moral Dilemmas Do Not Reflect Impartial Concern for the Greater Good’, Cognition 134 (2015), 193209.

33 For example, see Patil, I., ‘Trait Psychopathy and Utilitarian Moral Judgement: The Mediating Role of Action Aversion’, Journal of Cognitive Psychology 27:3 (2015), 349366. See also Cushman, F., Gray, K., Gaffey, A., and Mendes, W. B., ‘Simulating Murder: The Aversion to Harmful Action’, Emotion 12:1 (2012), 27.

34 See Bartels, D. M. and Pizarro, D. A., ‘The Mismeasure of Morals: Antisocial Personality Traits Predict Utilitarian Responses to Moral Dilemmas’, Cognition 121:1 (2011), 154161. See also Djeriouat, H. and Tremoliere, B., ‘The Dark Triad of Personality and Utilitarian Moral Judgment: The Mediating Role of Honesty/Humility and Harm/Care’, Personality and Individual Differences 67 (2014), 1116. See also Gao, Y. and Tang, S., ‘Psychopathic Personality and Utilitarian Moral Judgment in College Students’, Journal of Criminal Justice 41:5 (2013), 342349.

35 Kahane, et al., ‘Utilitarian Judgments in Sacrificial Moral Dilemmas Do Not Reflect Impartial Concern for the Greater Good’, 12.

36 Christensen, J. F., Flexas, A., Calabrese, M., Gut, N. K., and Gomila, A., ‘Moral Judgment Reloaded: A Moral Dilemma Validation Study’, Frontiers in Psychology5:607 (2014), 118.

37 Christensen, et al., ‘Moral Judgment Reloaded’, 16.

38 Parsons, T. D., ‘Virtual Reality for Enhanced Ecological Validity and Experimental Control in the Clinical, Affective and Social Neurosciences’, Front Hum Neurosci. 9:660 (2015), 114.

39 Navarrete, C. D., McDonald, M. M., Mott, M. L., and Asher, B., ‘Virtual Morality: Emotion and Action in a Simulated Three-Dimensional “Trolley Problem”’, Emotion 12:2 (2012), 364370.

40 Skulmowski, A., Bunge, A., Kaspar, K., and Pipa, G., ‘Forced-Choice Decision-Making in Modified Trolley Dilemma Situations: A Virtual Reality and Eye Tracking Study, Front Behav Neurosci. 8:426 (2014),  2.

41 FeldmanHall, O., Mobbs, D., Evans, D., Hiscox, L., Navrady, L., and Dalgleish, T., ‘What We Say and What We Do: The Relationship Between Real and Hypothetical Moral Choices’, Cognition 123:3 (2012), 434441.

42 For an overview of moral hypocrisy see Monin, B. and Merritt, A., ‘Moral Hypocrisy, Moral Inconsistency, and the Struggle for Moral Integrity’, in Mikulincer, M. and Shaver, P. R. (eds), The Social Psychology of Morality: Exploring the Causes of Good and Evil: Herzliya Series on Personality and Social Psychology (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2012), 167184.

43 Cima, M., Tonnaer, F., and Hauser, M. D., ‘Psychopaths Know Right From Wrong But Don't Care’, Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 5:1 (2010), 5967. See also Kiehl, K. A., ‘Without Morals: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Criminal Psychopaths’, in Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (ed.), Moral Psychology (Cambridge, USA: The MIT Press, 2008), 119149. See also Tassy, S., Deruelle, C., Mancini, J., Leistedt, S., and Wicker, B., ‘High Levels of Psychopathic Traits Alters Moral Choice But Not Moral Judgment’, Front Hum Neurosci. 7 (2013): https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00229.

44 For an example see Francis, K. B., Howard, C., Howard, I. S., Gummerum, M., Ganis, G., Anderson, G., and Terbeck, S., ‘Virtual Morality: Transitioning from Moral Judgment to Moral Action?’, PLoS One 11:10 (2016), 122.

45 Patil, I., Cogoni, C., Zangrando, N., Chittaro, L., and Silani, G., ‘Affective Basis of Judgment-Behavior Discrepancy in Virtual Experiences of Moral Dilemmas’, Soc Neurosci. 9:1 (2014), 95.

46 See Navarrete, et al., ‘Virtual Morality: Emotion and Action in a Simulated Three-Dimensional “Trolley Problem”’, 364–370. See also Skulmowski, et al., ‘Forced-Choice Decision-Making in Modified Trolley Dilemma Situations: A Virtual Reality and Eye Tracking Study’, 1–16.

47 See Francis, et al., ‘Virtual Morality: Transitioning from Moral Judgment to Moral Action’, 1–22. See also Patil, et al., ‘Affective Basis of Judgment-Behavior Discrepancy in Virtual Experiences of Moral Dilemmas’, 94–107. See also X. Pan and M. Slater, ‘Confronting a Moral Dilemma in Virtual Reality: A Pilot Study’, Proceedings of the 25th BCS Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (2011).

48 For a full description see Francis, et al., ‘Virtual Morality: Transitioning from Moral Judgment to Moral Action’, 1–22.

49 Slater, M., Antley, A., Davison, A., Swapp, D., Guger, C., Barker, C., and Sanchez-Vives, M. V., ‘A Virtual Reprise of the Stanley Milgram Obedience Experiments’, PLoS One 1:1 (2006), 110.

50 Rovira, A., Swapp, D., Spanlang, B., and Slater, M., ‘The Use of Virtual Reality in the Study of People's Responses to Violent Incidents’, Front Behav Neurosc. 3:59 (2009), 110.

51 M. Hauser, et al., ‘A Dissociation Between Moral Judgments and Justifications’, 4.

52 Francis, et al., ‘Virtual Morality: Transitioning from Moral Judgment to Moral Action’, 1–22.

53 Andreatta, P. B., Maslowski, E., Petty, S., Shim, W., Marsh, M., Hall, T., and Frankel, J., ‘Virtual Reality Triage Training Provides a Viable Solution for Disaster-Preparedness’, Academic Emergency Medicine 17:8 (2010), 870876.

54 Rovira, et al., ‘The Use of Virtual Reality in the Study of People's Responses to Violent Incidents’, 2, 9.

55 Carassa, A., Morganti, F., and Tirassa, M., ‘A Situated Cognition Perspective on Presence’, Proceedings of the Cognitive Science Society 27 (2005), 384.

56 See Parsons, ‘Virtual Reality for Enhanced Ecological Validity and Experimental Control in the Clinical, Affective and Social Neurosciences’, 1–14.

57 Slater, et al., ‘A Virtual Reprise of the Stanley Milgram Obedience Experiments’, 1–10.

58 Rovira, et al., ‘The Use of Virtual Reality in the Study of People's Responses to Violent Incidents’, 1–10.

59 Francis, et al., ‘Virtual Morality: Transitioning from Moral Judgment to Moral Action’, 1–22.

60 For an example see Greene, et al., ‘An fMRI Investigation of Emotional Engagement in Moral Judgment’, 2105–2108.

See also Cushman, F., ‘Action, Outcome, and Value: A Dual-System Framework for Morality’, Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 17:3 (2013), 273292.

See also Moll, J., de Oliveira-Souza, R., and Eslinger, P. J., ‘Morals and the Human Brain: A Working Model’, Neuroreport 14:3 (2003), 299305.

61 Bunge, A. and Skulmowski, A., ‘Descriptive and Pragmatic Levels of Empirical Ethics: Utilizing the Situated Character of Moral Concepts, Judgment, and Decision-Making’, in Luetge, C., Rusch, H., and Uhl, M. (eds), Experimental Ethics: Toward an Empirical Moral Philosophy (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 176.

62 Terbeck, et al., ‘Beta Adrenergic Blockade Reduces Utilitarian Judgement’, 323–328.

63 Terbeck, et al., ‘Beta-Adrenoceptor Blockade Modulates Fusiform Gyrus Activity to Black versus White Faces’, 2951–2958.

64 Terbeck and Chesterman, ‘Will There Ever Be a Drug With No or Negligible Side Effects? Evidence From Neuroscience’, 189–194.

65 Francis, et al., ‘Virtual Morality: Transitioning from Moral Judgment to Moral Action’, 1–22.

The Experimental Psychology of Moral Enhancement: We Should If We Could, But We Can't

  • Sylvia Terbeck (a1) and Kathryn B. Francis (a1)

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