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Emotions linked to our moral sense awaken slowly in the mind, according to a new study from a neuroscience group led by corresponding author Antonio Damasio, director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California.
The finding, contained in one of the first brain studies of inspirational emotions in a field dominated by a focus on fear and pain, suggests that digital media culture may be better suited to some mental processes than others.
"For some kinds of thought, especially moral decision-making about other people's social and psychological situations, we need to allow for adequate time and reflection," said first author Mary Helen Immordino-Yang.
Humans can sort information very quickly and can respond in fractions of seconds to signs of physical pain in others.
Admiration and compassion—two of the social emotions that define humanity—take much longer, Damasio's group found.
The study raises questions about the emotional cost—particularly for the developing brain—of heavy reliance on a rapid stream of news snippets obtained through television, online feeds or social networks such as Twitter.
"If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people's psychological states and that would have implications for your morality," Immordino- Yang said.
Their study will appear next week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition.
It's about the dissolution of empathy.