Why Do People Do Bad (and Good) Things? That’s the fall focus of the Sinai and Synapses Discussion Forum. Each week, we’ll gather some of the most interesting articles on the topic from across the online world. We hope they make you think—and share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.
Evil isn’t easy. Say what you will about history’s monsters, they had to overcome a lot of powerful neural wiring to commit the crimes they did. The human brain is coded for compassion, for guilt, for a kind of empathic pain that causes the person inflicting harm to feel a degree of suffering that is in many ways as intense as what the victim is experiencing. Somehow, that all gets decoupled—and a new study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience brings science a step closer to understanding exactly what goes on in the brain of a killer. (Jeffrey Kluger, TIME)
David Brooks: I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born—that the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments. If we wanted to be gimmicky, we could say these accomplishments amounted to a moral bucket list, the experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life. Here, quickly, are some of them. (The New York Times)
Nate Carnes: Do you find it plausible that liberals and conservatives might perceive their social and moral worlds in completely incompatible ways? Metaphorically speaking, do we occupy separate realities? The answer, we suggest, depends on where you look. (Character & Context, Society for Personality and Social Psychology)
While surveys from groups like Gallup and Pew find majorities of Americans agree we are losing our morality, no one seems to know what to do about it. Nancy Eisenberg deals with these issues every day as a professor of psychology at Arizona State University. We asked Eisenberg whether it’s possible to legislate morality. (Mark Brodie, KJZZ)
About 2,500 years ago something changed the way humans think. Within the span of two centuries, in three separate regions of Eurasia, spiritual movements emerged that would give rise to the world’s major moral religions, those preaching some combination of compassion, humility and asceticism. Scholars often attribute the rise of these moral religions to population growth. Yet findings from a recent study published in Current Biology point to a different factor: rising affluence. (Bret Stetka, Scientific American)
Paul A. Djupe, Andrew R. Lewis, and Ted G. Jelen: We find that evangelical Christians who are exposed to claims about religious rights actually become more willing to extend First Amendment rights to their ideological opponents. That is, the campaign to reinforce religious liberty might actually increase political tolerance in the long run. (The Washington Post)