Universal Morality, Mediated Narratives, and Neural Synchrony

René Weber, Lucy Popova, J. Michael Mangus

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Humans are a social species. We are able to coexist-more or less successfully-in increasingly complex societies because over the course of history we have developed norms that guide our behavior in social groups. Morality can be understood as a set of norms that an individual in a society accepts as an overriding guide to one’s own behavior and to the behavior of everyone else in that social group (Gert, 2011). On the other hand, many scholars in the area of moral psychology and moral philosophy believe that humans evolved a sense of universal morality, which is similar to our innate ability to learn a language (Bloom, 2010; Haidt, 2001; Hamlin, Wynn, & Bloom, 2010; Hauser, 2006; Mikhail, 2007; Nichols, 2005). Morality, similar to language, is an evolutionary modification to enable living in large structured groups. To some extent, morality became hard-wired in our brains and bodies, but it still requires input from a specific cultural environment for full development (Haidt, 2001). In this chapter we will examine the interplay between universal morality and mediated narratives (particularly entertainment narratives) through the lens of the latest development in fields such as moral psychology, communication science, and cognitive neuroscience. We present evidence for universal morality and argue for its importance in perceptions and evaluations of mediated narratives. We show that mediated narratives, like real-world interactions, are able to trigger the cognitive mechanisms of universal morality with the purpose of binding social groups together in ways that foster collaboration in moral communities (cultures). We propose that one such mechanism can be understood as a cortical inter-subject synchronization process across specialized networks in our brains. We suggest that our ability to synchronize our thoughts, emotions, and motor-activities with others’ thoughts, emotions, and motor-activities might be a core principle of human trust and cooperation in large groups for which universal norms are essential (Campbell, 1983). We conclude the chapter with some preliminary findings and a set of research questions that need to be addressed in future research.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMedia and the Moral Mind
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781136460272
ISBN (Print)9780415506359
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2013 Taylor & Francis.


Dive into the research topics of 'Universal Morality, Mediated Narratives, and Neural Synchrony'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this