29 February-Wellcome Lecture in Neuroethics: Neural chemical systems mediate social behaviour in the 'Tragedy of the Commons': implications for ethics and the clinic.

Recent research has highlighted the role of neurochemical systems, such as serotonin and oxytocin, in the expression of value-laden behaviours involving 'trust' or 'fairness', in dyadic exchanges between social partners. However, situations in which behaviours are described as 'fair or 'unfair', or 'trustworthy' or 'deceitful' also take place in the context of wider social groups and communities.

To date, there have been no experimental investigation into how neurochemical systems mediate the ability of individuals to contribute to group-based endeavours in which securing certain objectives might be critical for the group itself. Recently, we have begun to explore the role of serotonin in the laboratory-based models of the management of valuable, but depletable, resources, both at an individual level and as part of social group. These situations can, under certain conditions, pit the rational behaviour of the individual against the interest of the wider social group (as in the 'Tragedy of the Commons').

Our data provide preliminary evidence to suggest that serotonin mediates, not just the appraisal of social actions in ethical terms, but also the ability to gain value from shared objectives. They also raise hypotheses about the kinds of social difficulties we might expect to see in certain psychological disorders, but also about how serotonin activity influences the way we appraise and respond to value-laden behaviours, and seek solutions to broader social dilemmas.

 

Prof. Robert Rogers, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Senior Research Fellow, Jesus College Oxford
5.30 p.m. Seminar Room 1, Oxford Martin School, 34 Broad Street (
http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/contact/)

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