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Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality Paperback – August 26, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Society's assumptions about free will and individual responsibility must be drastically revised in the light of scientific discoveries about the brain, argues this fascinating study. Drawing on a wealth of recent developments in neurobiology, genetics and brain imaging, Tancredi, a professor of psychiatry and a lawyer, examines new findings about the neurological structures and processes that underlie reasoning, emotions and decision-making. He applies these discoveries to such traditional moral concerns as violence, sexual infidelity, lying, gluttony and sloth, and even financial fraud and gambling. The striking results of this research, he notes, indicate that hormones, drugs, genetic abnormalities, injuries and traumatic experiences all have profound effects on brain structure and functioning, and hence on moral choices; indeed, some experiments imply that our actions are initiated by the unconscious brain before we are consciously aware of them, raising the possibility that our sense of moral agency is a retrospective "illusion." Tancredi supplements his rather dry exposition of the science with case studies from his clinical practice, including lengthy profiles of a sex-addicted patient and of a "biologically driven" serial killer, and closes by pondering the possibility and perils of a hypothetical Brave New World-style program of neurological intervention-complete with brain implants-to improve morality. Some will consider Tancredi's talk of the "empathetic" female brain and "systemizing" male brain and his chalking up of pedophilia to "an imbalance of the monoamine neurotransmitters" and homosexuality to "differences in neurohumeral activity during the prenatal phase" to be glibly reductionist, but many will find his well-researched overview of the new science of the brain a stimulating addition to the debate about human nature.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Behind the bad moral choices that sent Martha Stewart to prison, Tancredi discerns abnormal functioning of the brain. Indeed, much of what traditional morality has condemned as greed, lust, or sin looks like impaired neurobiology to this psychiatrist-lawyer, who locates the foundations of an ethical conscience in healthy genetic coding and properly balanced mental chemistry. Real case studies allow readers to see the implications of revolutionary neurological research, illuminating the ways that both the nurturing parent and the rampaging psychopath respond to deep neural impulses. Traditional concepts such as free will and moral accountability do shrink when viewed from this scientific perspective, as Tancredi candidly acknowledges, even conceding the dark possibility of a future in which ambitious social engineers might implant programmable chips into the pliant brains of puppet citizens. But a neuroscience that can enhance rather than diminish our humanity comes into focus as Tancredi highlights research showing how fully the brain can reshape itself by replacing destructive addictions to drugs, sex, or gambling with constructive aspirations and genuine social empathy. The oldest moral concerns and the latest scientific investigations are fused here. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (June 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521127394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521127394
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,166,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With the rapid demise of religious ethics and the belief by many that there is a fixed, immutable human nature, it is perhaps of no surprise that some ethicists would look to the brain for answers to fundamental questions in ethics. The study of the brain has revealed, at least in the last decade, that many behaviors, if not all, can be given a causal explanation. But traditional formulations of ethics have held it to be axiomatic that if (human) behaviors are to be classified as either "good" or "bad", i.e. if a system of ethics is to be constructed, then this system must hold that human actions are the result of free will, that they be the result of free, conscious intent.

Research in neuroscience has given serious doubt as to the axiomatic status of free will. Indeed, some researchers have dispensed with the notion all together, and have spoken of the "illusion" of conscious will. If one examines this research with an open but skeptical mind, one will discover a rich source of ideas, supported by empirical data that enable one to begin the construction of a system of ethics that is grounded entirely in neuroscience. The system has been referred to as `neuroethics', and has attracted the attention of some philosophers and many in the legal profession. Neuroethics is based on a profound and some might say frightening view of human nature and personal identity. But it has so far delivered on its (unstated) promise of giving a scientific foundation for ethics.

In this book the author gives a somewhat brief but helpful overview of neuroethics.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This really is an outstanding piece of work. The author is both a psychiatrist and a lawyer who argues, quite rightly, that many of our assumptions about free will and individual responsibility must be drastically revised in the light of scientific discoveries about the brain.

This is part of a larger debate that is going on within psychiatry, psychology and the legal profession. As an example, at what age should a young person be able to drive a car or be legally liable for their decisions? The driving question comes up because the brain and nervous system of a fifteen-year-old is still far from being fully mature, and may lead to poor coordination and decision-making. Can an eighteen-year-old be held liable for his or her behavior, at a time that his or her brain is not fully formed? Yet he or she is able to fight for his or her country. Our answers to those questions are likely to be a mixture of political positions and personal experience. But now we also have to factor in our burgeoning knowledge about the brain. There seems no doubt that this explosion of knowledge about the brain will be factored into some future legal decisions.

In Tancredi's book, he applies knowledge derived from recent research to such traditional moral concerns as violence, sexual infidelity, lying and physical "excess." For anybody working in the field, it is very clear that hormones, nutritional status, drugs, genetic abnormalities, injuries and traumatic experiences all have profound effects on the structure and functioning of the brain. Therefore they may all have an impact on our moral choices. Some experimental work implies that our actions are initiated by pre-conscious and unconscious processes in the brain before we are consciously aware of them.
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Format: Hardcover
Summary
Laurence Tancredi's, "Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality," provides an excellent, thorough investigation of the relationship between brain biology and "moral" actions. Current neuroscience research is moving farther away from the mind-brain dichotomy and instead suggesting that the physical brain has a major role in shaping our emotions. Tancredi examines how specific aspects of the brain determine moral thinking and repeatedly asks, "could it be possible that we are assigning too much power to `free will' and blaming the perpetrator, who may instead be a `victim' of his or her own biology?" (pg. 13)

The Moral Brain
The first four chapters examine the potential for a physical, biological basis for a "moral brain." First, Tancredi acknowledges that our current notions of morality and well-defined "evil" actions (i.e. murder, stealing, etc) are social constructs, which have evolved to promote stability in our community. Neuroscientific discoveries have been complicating these conclusions, however, by suggesting that certain aspects of our behavior are predetermined by physical aspects of our brain biology and genetics. Some early examples of this paradigm shift are the experiments of Libet, Platt, and Glimcher, whose research seems to diminish the concept of our free will over simple actions like moving our hand.
The fourth chapter provides an anatomical exploration of the brain, organized into the emotional brain (amygdala, hippocampus, the anterior cingulated cortex and the hypothalamus), the frontal lobes, the inhibitory networks, and the mirror-neuron system.

Bad Without Conscience
This chapter explores the troubled life of the serial killer Ricky Green, in an attempt to decipher his psychopathic personality.
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