Placing a value on the pain and suffering of others is central to moral decision-making. How do we evaluate the costs of others’ suffering when making potentially harmful decisions? To explore this question, we examine the cognitive and neural mechanisms of moral decision-making, using a combination of behavioural experiments, computational modeling, and brain imaging. We also investigate how manipulating people's brain chemistry affects moral decision-making, using pharmacological interventions. The goal of this research is to help determine whether it is possible to enhance morality in people with antisocial behavior, as well as in healthy people. We work with philosophers to explore the ethical implications of our findings.
Learning about the moral character of others – whether a potential friend, romantic interest or business partner is trustworthy, helpful and caring – is crucial for building successful social relationships. There are large individual differences in this ability, and understanding the mechanisms that contribute to these individual differences may shed light on why some people are consistently able to cultivate healthy, long-lasting relationships, while others repeatedly find themselves in unhealthy or failed relationships. We use behavioural experiments, computational modeling and brain imaging to investigate the neural and psychological mechanisms of moral learning. Our goal is to identify specific patterns in the learning process that could be used to distinguish healthy people from those with social impairments.
Dysfunctional interpersonal relationships characterize a range of mental health disorders, causing tremendous suffering for both patients and their carers. However, the nature of social impairment in mental illness is poorly understood, in large part because appropriate objective and quantitative tools for measuring social cognition are lacking. We aim to advance understanding of social cognition in mental illness by exploiting newly developed computational tools for precisely measuring moral learning and decision-making. These abilities are fundamental for healthy social relationships, and the social difficulties of many patients suggest they may be impaired in either or both of these capacities. We address these questions using behavioral experiments and computational modeling in healthy people and in patient populations.