Nurturing Our Better Nature: A Proposal for Cognitive Integrity as a Foundation for Autonomous Living.


Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Yeshiva University, Bronx, NY, USA. [Email]


As we account for the genetic and environmental influences on morally-relevant character traits like intellectual honesty, industriousness, and self-control, do we risk becoming ever less accountable to ourselves? Behavioral genetic research suggests that about half the variance in such character traits is likely attributable to heredity, and a small fraction to the shared family environment. The remaining 40-60% is explained by neither genes nor family upbringing. This raises the question: how active a role can individuals play in shaping their own character? What, if anything, can and should one do to take responsibility for the kind of person one becomes? This paper sketches a novel theoretical proposal for addressing these questions, by drawing on several previously disparate lines of research within behavior genetics, philosophy, and experimental psychology. Our core proposal concerns the metacognitive capacity to engage in active, reality-based cognition, as opposed to passive, stimulus-driven processing or an active pretense at cognition (i.e., self-deception). We review arguments and evidence indicating that human beings both can and should exercise this capacity, which we have termed "cognitive integrity." We argue that doing so can in a certain sense "set us free" of our genetic and environmental influences-not by rendering them irrelevant, but by giving us the awareness and motivation to manage them more responsibly. This perspective has important implications for guiding the development of psychosocial interventions, and for informing how we direct ourselves more generally, both as individuals and as a society.


Cognitive control,Free will,Heritability,Metacognition,Moral development,Moral identity,