Me Me Me

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Science  14 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6176, pp. 1178
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6176.1178-b

What makes me me, and not you? Is it my corpus of autobiographical memories? Is it my concordance of wants and desires, which may themselves have been birthed and shaped by my personality traits? Or is it my sense of right and wrong? Strohminger and Nichols opt for the last and demonstrate in a series of studies that morality constitutes the largest part of self. Capacities and traits were grouped into psychological categories representing lower-level functions, such as perception and sensation; everyday automatic cognitive functions, such as identifying objects and riding a bike; or distinctive individual preferences, such as liking broccoli and valuing honesty. Then, online Americans were asked which were associated most closely with personal identities or, alternatively, the extent to which a person would change if that particular capacity or trait were lost. Throughout, attributes closer to morality were deemed to be more essential to one's identity. In a futuristic scenario set in 2049, when asked what part of Jim the accountant's brain would need to be transplanted into a recipient body in order to resurrect Jim, the part supporting moral judgment was chosen most.

Cognition 131, 159 (2014).

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