The Surprising Connection Between Brain Chemistry and Ethics Decisions

Did you know that ethics decisions are impacted by our brain chemistry in the moment?

We all like to think that being an ethical and moral person is something intrinsic to us. That our morals were formed by our family of origin and people who influenced us positively when we were in developmental stages.  And to a large extent that is true.

We also know that circumstances and culture are powerful influencers of human behavior.  We remember one or both of our parents warning us about the perils of “falling in with the wrong crowd” and “peer pressure” when we were teenagers.  We venerate those brave individuals who do the right thing, often at great risk to their own interests, when their peers are too timid to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

But it feels unnerving and unnatural to think that the chemical juices in our brain, which we give little thought to, can pull us off our moral foundation and the virtues we all hold dear.

Simply having elevated levels of testosterone and cortisol at the same time increases our tendency to engage in cheating for self interest (and cheating is often a way to temporarily alleviate anxiety and stress).   You can read more about that particular vicious circle here. Cheating to relieve anxiety.

There are a handful of hormones and neurotransmitters which impact ethical decision making.  And learning about them and how they impact our ethical decision making is  fun and interesting.   Understanding how brain chemistry impacts decision making helped me understand how I misinterpreted many emails. It also helped me gain clarity about many of my less than stellar decisions – a process of self analysis  that is uncomfortable but highly informative and equipping.

With increasing frequency, professional development courses and programs are focusing on neuroscience, particularly as it relates to cognitive decision making dynamics.

Brain chemistry, a subset of neuroscience, can directly influence how ethical or moral we are in any given moment.  Managing our brain chemistry not only makes it more likely we will make better ethics decisions it has the added benefit of simply making us feel better.

 

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