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Evolution, Neuroscience

Morality: Evolution’s Winning Gambit

English: Anterior cingulate gyrus.

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The evolutionary and neurobiological investigations of morality are only just beginning, but they are already shedding light on the contexts that must have shaped our capacity and propensity for moral judgment and behavior, and on the circuitry that generates our sense of right and wrong and compels us to act accordingly.

We are slowly building a map of the brain, and eventually, we’ll know where in it morality’s circuitry lies. But brief glimpses have already been won, and we know that several regions figure prominently in the generation of moral judgments: the temporoparietal junction, insular cortex, and anterior cingulate gyrus.

Moreover, evolution favors hemispheric lateralization, and the lateralization of key moral circuitry has now been experimentally established. Most recently, gender has been recognized as a complicating factor in an already complicated story; morality may have multiple molds, each with its own niche in the proto human environment, differently shaped by natural selection to different ends.

Whatever is left to be discovered, and whichever of our current assumptions are eventually overturned, we can be confident that morality is an integral part of our species’ success, a favor bestowed and favored by evolution, and that its origins are ancient and deeply rooted in the brain.

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