Can we create a morality pill? And if we can, should we? Scientists at yesterday’s International Neuroethics Society panel on moral enhancement addressed these questions and others about the potential use of hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin to shape social behavior.
Some companies and media outlets have jumped the gun, declaring oxytocin the “moral molecule” or the “love chemical.” If you want to enhance your trustworthiness, an internet search will turn up what is supposedly "oxytocin spray." But the panelists cautioned about reading too much into these claims, noting that this field is complicated and still in its infancy.
All three panelists, Dana Alliance member Patricia Churchland, Molly Crockett, and Julian Savulescu, seemed to agree that two of the biggest obstacles to the research are: (1) lack of universal definitions for terms such as “morality” and “moral enhancement,” and (2) neurochemicals such as oxytocin and serotonin do not act in isolation, and they shape behavior beyond pro-social aspects.
Crockett suggested a multi-disciplinary collaboration to determine common definitions for morality and related terms. Churchland added that one must keep in mind that moral judgment is not neatly separated from factors such as emotions, reasoning, motives, habits, stress, temperament, age, etc. “Morality is not a module,” she said.