If you disrupt a part of the brain—the temporo-parietal junction—with magnets, people have a harder time discerning ill-intent in the actions of others. I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of this study until a few months ago (it’s now over a decade old), but it reveals how complex our minds are when making ethical judgments.
In both experiments, the researchers found that when the right TPJ was disrupted, subjects were more likely to judge failed attempts to harm as morally permissible. Therefore, the researchers believe that TMS interfered with subjects’ ability to interpret others’ intentions, forcing them to rely more on outcome information to make their judgments.
“It doesn’t completely reverse people’s moral judgments, it just biases them,” says Saxe.