Admiration for Virtue: Neuroscientific Perspectives on a Motivating Emotion

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Social emotions like admiration for another person's virtue are often associated with a desire to be virtuous one's self, and to engage in meaningful and socially relevant activities against any odds (. Haidt & Seder, 2007). These emotions can profoundly inspire us, sometimes motivating our most significant life-course decisions. Yet despite the cognitive maturity and complexity of knowledge required to induce an emotion like admiration for virtue, our recent study of the brain and psychophysiological correlates of experiencing this emotion revealed significant involvement of low-level brain systems responsible for the feeling of the gut and the maintenance of basic life regulation (. Immordino-Yang, McColl, Damasio, & Damasio, 2009). These findings contribute an interesting jumping-off point for reexamining the educational study of motivation states because they suggest that, contrary to current conceptions in educational research, nonconscious, low-level physiological processes related to survival and bodily sensation may be critical contributors to intrinsic motivation.



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