The Righteous Mind (2012) explores how moral decisions are made, concluding that moral judgments stem from intuitions, not logic. The author draws on his background in social psychology and 25 years of groundbreaking research to explain how morality both binds us and divides us and how religion and politics create conflicting communities of shared morality.
Western philosophy has emphasized reason and logic over emotions for thousands of years. This tendency still prevails, but a growing body of research proves that emotions should no longer be regarded as secondary to logic.
For example, American neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has demonstrated that emotions play a more important role in processing information and making moral judgments than had previously been thought.
He studied patients with brain damage which had resulted in their emotionality dropping to nearly zero, and found that, at any given moment in their everyday life, every option the patients had at their disposal felt equally right to them.
Imagine that every choice you made in life meant as little to you as choosing a new kettle. This was life for Damasio’s patients: they could think about anything at all with absolutely no emotional input, leading to a general indifference in their behavior. Their social lives were severely impaired as they became less thoughtful partners, friends and colleagues.
And not only do emotions have a valid role in processing information, they are also constantly at work. Research has demonstrated that everything triggers emotions in us, and these emotions automatically influence our moral reasoning.
This was demonstrated in an experiment by social psychologist Robert Zajonc, who asked people to view a series of slides of pictures, words and figures. Every single slide immediately triggered a tiny flash of affect in them, even when the images were arbitrary things like geometric shapes and squiggles. This indicates that emotions work instantly and constantly, ready to guide thought, behavior and moral judgment.
So there is no need to distrust your feelings – they always play an important role when you are processing information or making moral decisions.
Contrary to popular belief, it is emotion, not reasoning, that drives our moral judgment.