Honesty, Humility, and Humanity: How the Epigenome and Mindfulness Shape Moral Decision Making
TWCF Number
Project Duration
October 1 / 2014
- September 30 / 2017
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Big Questions
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Grant DOI*

* A Grant DOI (digital object identifier) is a unique, open, global, persistent and machine-actionable identifier for a grant.

Richard P Ebstein
Institution National University of Singapore

The overarching goals of the present proposal are firstly to seek a deep understanding of the neurobiological foundations of both honesty and humility as two distinct and fundamental virtues of humanity, which are defined and operationalized by different laboratory-based paradigms. Secondly, we aim to enhance these virtues by mindfulness training.

Mindfulness is the ability to experience the present moment in its entirety and involves paying attention to internal and external phenomena as they unfold, moment by moment. Besides meditation, mindfulness also comes about from exercises such as Yoga and Tai Chi. By combining the methodologies of neuroscience, psychology and experimental economics, we aim to uncover the neurobiological roots of moral decision making manifesting in the human virtues of honesty and humility. Importantly, we conjecture that even a relatively short mindfulness course will enhance moral decision making in addition to generating changes at the neural, epigenetic and biomarker levels. We will study the relationship between these neurobiological processes, and link them to the subject's level of honesty and humility, which will be observed using behavioral economic tasks as well as questionnaires that independently measure each of these virtues.

An enduring impact of this proposal is to provide proof of principle that the study of human virtue and its enhancement can be put on a firm footing in the neurosciences. We furthermore assert the concept, that through mindfulness training, people can learn to exercise will power and self-control towards moral self-improvement.

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