The connection between morals and emotions is surprisingly strong. As Joshua Greene wrote in his article, “How (and where) Does Moral Judgment Work?”, emotion is a significant aspect in moral judgment. There is now neuro-imaging and fMRI testing that can support the correlation and studies on pre-frontal cortex damage in children and adults is also discovering the connection between morality and emotions. Antonio Damasio continues his exploration into prefrontal damage by defining acquired sociopathy. Damasio talks about how when there is damage in the prefrontal cortex, there is also emotional disturbance on multiple levels: decreased emotional reactions, compromising of social emotions, poor planning of everyday activities, and poor management o human relationships. There is no disorder in perception, movement, conventional memory, language, and general reasoning ability, only within the social emotional behavior. Why is it that there is this onset of sociopath-like behavior? A section of the prefrontal cortices is meant for making social and moral decisions and also plays a part in acquiring knowledge to create morals. So, morals and ethics have a foundation in the neurological functions that are connected to the genesis of emotions. Like when Damasio was discussing Phineas Gage in his book, Descartes’ Error, Greene also discusses how people suffering from prefrontal damage have social knowledge intact, but are unable to use it within real-life situations. Their basic decision making skills become based on a logic that lacks emotional reasoning.
The amount of damage done on one’s emotional and moral connections also depends on whether or not the prefrontal damage was done during childhood or adulthood. Early prefrontal damage is far more serious than in adult prefrontal damage because children never learn the social and moral rules that they are violating whereas adults do have that knowledge. Adults are able to create emotional signals that can guide the decision-making process based on past successful experiences. Children do not have these memories to rely on, but both children and adults modify the settings of the network as a result of new experiences. Their social behavior becomes impaired because of their lack of moral analysis within social settings because the knowledge of moral norms is completely deficient within children with prefrontal damage.
As Greene says, moral reasoning matters within social contexts and findings within the world of social psychology support that. People evaluate others and apply stereotypes to others automatically based on moral reasoning. When someone is motivated to maintain a relationship and defend their ideas these will bias one’s judgments and help to motivate future reasoning. People are also willing to sacrifice material interests, time and physical integrity in order to defend their societal causes, principles and ideologies. Morality has the ability to promote cooperation and helping but is also capable of creating hostility among individuals and social groups. People are constantly challenging others’ values and ideologies to defend their own moral reasoning in life.
When looking at how those with prefrontal damage are unable to achieve moral or emotional competence within social situations, there is understanding to why they cannot succeed at life. If emotions and morality are connected and influenced by one another, then one cannot succeed in society without them. Morals have to have an emotional connection because we live so strongly by them and morals are created from experiences that we analyze with our emotions. The judgment that takes place within social settings is largely based on what “feels right” or not. How can that be recreated for someone with prefrontal damage? How can someone who has had prefrontal damage since childhood achieve a moral lifestyle? Is there any way to help their memories relearn moral cues if we cannot recreate emotions to support the moral judgments?