One of the oldest philosophical debates out there is about the simple question: is man good or is he evil? Now I’ve personally been an apostle of the musician Tom Waits on this one. He has a great lyric that goes ‘if there’s one thing you can say about mankind it’s that there’s nothing kind about man.’
However, new scientific results seem to put both me and Tom to shame. The science in question can be found in the cheerily named paper ‘Simulating murder: The aversion to harmful action’ which can be found in the American Psychological Association’s PsycNET.
In it, Fiery Cushman (no kidding, that’s a real name), Kurt Gray, Allison Gaffey and Wendy Berry Mendes ‘[…]demonstrate that unwillingness to endorse harm in a moral dilemma is predicted by individual differences in aversive reactivity, as indexed by peripheral vasoconstriction.
This was done by ‘discharging a fake gun into the face of the experimenter, fully informed that the actions were pretend and harmless. These simulated harmful actions increased peripheral vasoconstriction significantly more than did witnessing pretend harmful actions or to performing metabolically matched non-harmful actions.’
The team found that ‘[…]the aversion to harmful actions extends beyond empathic concern for victim harm. Together, these studies demonstrate a link between the body and moral decision-making processes.’
In short, you could say that we’re good on a biological level, which can be proved by firing blanks into the face of researchers. By God, I would have liked to be part of that study…