Go With Your Ethical Gut!

In an interesting article titled Why Your Gut Is More Ethical Than Your Brain the authors examine the role of ethics in industry. They begin by saying:
It's believed that to live ethically, we must engage our reason, which reins in the whims and follies of emotion. Ethics, then, is heavy on Spock and light on Sally Struthers. But what if unethical behavior is actually spurred, rather than prevented, by reason?
The piece goes on to report about a series of experiments that tested the decisions of participants to cheat or be fair.
The results looked like this:
  • Some were encouraged to think rationally about the situation and to ignore their emotions. Equipped with this advice, the great majority (69%) analyzed the situation and con-cluded that they should screw their partners.
  • Others were primed to "make decisions based on gut feelings." Their guts were pretty trustworthy: Only 27% lied.
They say most people do not think that our guts are good criteria for living though..
There's a twist: Even though the study shows that we would be treated better by people who trust their feelings, we're leery of them. When people were given a choice to interact with a rational decision-making partner or a gut-trusting one, 75% chose the rational partner.
Isn't it interesting how our brainy rationalizations seem to trump our gut? I wonder what it is about our brains that make us feel so safe? And what is it about our gut that makes us uncomfortable? I think that it might involve our desire to be in control of our lives. Dr Matthew Eliott puts it this way:
We think our job is to control our feelings ... we are uncomfortable when people feel deeply. In our desire to distance ourselves from feelings, we do great damage to souls and our own ability to feel love and compassion.
I think that we find our conscience in our gut. When we go with our gut we go with our moral center. I think that is why our gut will always be more ethical than our brains.

What do you think? Are you most comfortable living from your brain or your gut?


  1. First, I go with the word of God. I don't mean to sound santimonious, I have spent quite some time trying to develop that habit not to mention it. Second, the gut is probably the conscience. The conscience is a gift from God to alert us to sin or to wrong in order to forsake, confess that wrong, and be restored to full fellowship with God. The brain can reason beyond pangs of guilt, or pangs of conscience and deceive us.

  2. @Gregg - The problem I had in my Fundie years was the way that I used and lived out the scriptures in a very legalistic way. It created a self-righteousness in me that often alienated me from others.

    I think that the gut is that place of life within us that is sometimes called the spirit or heart or soul or innermost being. It is the place that knows (ala James 4:17) the right thing to do or not to do. I wrote something here thay describes my thinking a bit fuller.

  3. Great piece I enjoyed reading it and think you are right on.

  4. Hi Bob,

    I once think that our mind (intellect) guides our decision making. My research has shown that it is our 'gut' or 'emotional side' or what is called the biblical 'heart' that actually guides our decision-making. My research are is on Christian spiritual formation. Thanks for a good post.

  5. Bob, I've been reading Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide. It basically says that neuroscience now proves that without the "gut" (or emotional response) we would never make decisions at all. If all we have is rational ability, our brains would forever analyze the minutia of variables. Our "gut" tells us when to stop analyzing and gives the moral weight needed to choose. It's an interesting read.

  6. Thanks Missy! Seems even more the reason to do all we can do to strengthen our ethical gut.


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