With the passing of another April Fools, comes the passing of both practical and impractical jokes on friends, family, and even random strangers. This glorious day of the year has many people caught in limbo between believing an email from a teacher or boss about a meeting or unforeseen exam is true, or disregarding it as a cruel joke. With deception being so prevalent, it is a good time to reflect on morality in general. After all, since childhood, we have been told that lying is bad and truth-telling is good. It seems like on April 1st we throw all sense of morality out the window.
I believe part of this lies in where the sense of morality lies in the brain. The frontal lobe is often associated with decision-making. One key area that is activated during moral decision-making is the Ventromedial prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is also responsible for regulating emotions. Furthermore, this area shows higher activation during social norm violation. During April fools, there is this norm of pranking or deceiving people. So where on normal days, deceiving someone may activate this area eventually leading the person to maybe review his or her actions, maybe there is less activation because the deception is more a social norm come April 1st.
Subcortical regions also play a role in morality. The Amygdala is often associated with emotion and fear. However the amygdala also plays a role when it comes to judging moral punishment. Most pranks and deceptions on April fools are less harmful and usually seen as jokes but most people might not act the same way on any other normal day. Could it be possible that with the knowledge that the person has an excuse (April fools!) for their deceit, there will not be as much of an inhibitory response from the amygdala when it comes to weighing whether an action is immoral or not? If this were the case they may be more inclined to participant in deceitful or unethical actions toward others.
Morality is a tricky issue. It is something that is often debated when assessing one’s actions, and is also heavily influenced by surrounding stimuli. Due to this heavy influence, is it possible that one’s morality can be changed in a way that some see as antisocial? Conversely, can psychopath’s sense of morality be altered? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, do we have the right to do so?
Pascual, L., Rodrigues, P., & Gallardo-Pujol, D. (2013). How does morality work in the brain? A functional and structural perspective of moral behavior. Frontiers In Integrative Neuroscience, 7doi:10.3389/fnint.2013.00065