Jorge Moll: Discovering the Biological Truth of Morality

Jorge Moll is the President, director and member of the governing board of the D’Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR) in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. He is also a senior researcher and the head of the Cognitive Neuroscience Unit and Neuroinformatics Workgroup, also at IDOR. Moll graduated in Medicine from the Federal University of Rio de Janiero in 1994 which is where he completed his medical residence in Neurology. Moll also acquired a PhD in Experimental Pathophysiology from São Paulo University in 2004.


Recently, Jorge Moll along with other neuroscientist, Grafman, at the National Institutes of Health, had worked on a study where volunteers were asked to think about a situation either donating money, or keeping it. The researchers then scanned the participants’ brains while they decided. The results of the scans show similar effects from altruism as with food or sex. Altruism, the experiment proposed, was not a loftier moral capacity but actually a basic function of the human brain.

Molls research in 2006, finding that generosity stimulates the pleasure center of the brain, offers scientific support to the spiritual and moral ideals that altruism, and possibly morality, are naturally programmed into the brain. It is a dramatic example of neuroscience becoming part of the discussion about morality. The study has posed new questions about what it means to be “good”. Jorge Moll and others are using brain imaging and experiments to study whether morality is a key component of the human brain and psychology. The results, unexpectedly, are revealing that many facets of morality appear to be hard-wired in the brain.

This new research is showing that morality has possible biological beginnings. This brings forth new questions about negating personal responsibility as the possibility of a chemical imbalance might be blamed for a lack of morality or empathy. Moral decisions often feel like logical challenges, but the experiment by Moll and Grafman has shown that emotions are essential to moral discernment. The moral compass within humans’ psyches may be a result of biological evolution. This controversial hypothesis will require more study and debate in future years.