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July 12, 2010 | By:  Nature Education
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Episode 19: Judging Other People's Intentions

In today's episode, Dr. Liane Young of MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences talks to Adam about the neurological basis for judging another person's actions. Typically, when we observe the actions of an individual, we also discern something about her intentions — that is, her mental state when carrying out these actions. Modern imaging technologies reveal that a certain region of the human brain behind the right ear, the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ), is highly active when considering the mental states (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, desires) of others and thus diagnosing their intentions. A team of researchers in the Saxe Lab at MIT have designed an experiment wherein the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), when applied to a subject’s RTPJ, can effectively “turn off” the moral judgments made while evaluating the merits of certain actions. When the RTPJ is “turned off” by TMS, actions, such as the failed poisoning of one person by another, are no longer gauged according to intentions; rather, they are based solely on consequences (i.e., if the act of poisoning failed, it isn't judged as immoral.) Join Adam as he learns how the use of TMS can reveal the neurological driving force behind judging motivations. [05:51]

1 Comment
July 19, 2010 | 08:50 PM
Posted By:  Donna Simmons
I'm new to "Simply Science" and look forward to sharing it with my colleagues, students and non-scientist family and friends. Thanks for this fascinating update on current research into 'Judging Other People's Intentions'. Though, I must admit, as a perhaps over-cautious neuroanatomist I would be a bit reluctant to undergo TMS just for the fun of it. (sheepish smile)

That said, from all I have read it seems to do no harm. And in addition to providing a non-invasive way to access complicated mental processes, I think TMS may well have valuable potential in treating things like the perseverating negative memories of people suffering from PTSD.
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