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What Causes Moral Behavior?

Exploring this quintessential question at the heart of ethics is the goal of the UCI Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality. The center was established in 2003 by a group of scholars from social sciences, social ecology, biological sciences and medicine interested in recent scientific research that yields insight on the origins and causes of morality. In creating the center, UCI faculty are addressing topics that reflect critically on the moral implications of the new frontiers in science.

Housed in the School of Social Sciences, the center convenes faculty, researchers, graduate students, and visiting scholars from all disciplines to conduct studies, present lectures and publish professional papers and proceedings from public talks and organized conferences.


I write not as Director of the Ethics Center but as a scholar who has spent most of her professional life trying to understand the psychology of prejudice and hate that erupts in war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other related forms of unspeakable, unbearable, unjustifiable immorality. As the human tragedy in the Middle East unfolds, I thought I would share this video ( from the new president of Harvard, which captures much of what seems most important for members of university communities to remember.

Kristen Monroe


ETHICS BRIEF 10-09-2022

Professor, Equity Advisor, and Ethics Center Board Member Mahtab Jafari works to help Iranians facing persecution and violence on their university campuses. October 7, 2022 UCI has the privilege of having a diverse faculty, students, and staff from around the world. Events taking place in Iran recently were precipitated by the tragic and unjust killing of Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022, while detained by the morality police. Amini had been arrested for wearing an “inadequate hijab” and her death has triggered ongoing peaceful protests in Iran and around the globe, including here and elsewhere in Southern California. At UCI, Professor, Equity Advisor, and Ethics Center member Mahtab Jafari has spoken out in public and with local leaders at the Orange County Board of Supervisors asking that the United States do more to support one of the largest national examples of efforts to uphold basic human rights.

These events in Iran alarm and trouble us as people concerned with human rights everywhere, of course, but especially as members of a fellow university community. Student protests in Iran have been brutally repressed, resulting in numerous deaths over the last 3 weeks. One special example of concern occurred on October 2nd, 2022, at Sharif University of Technology. The alma mater of a significant proportion of UCI engineering students, Sharif students were cornered by the government militia on the grounds of the University. Best estimates suggest hundreds of innocent students were terrorized and tortured behind the locked doors of the University itself. Many were taken into custody, battered and are still in prison. Video footage of the events brings home the tragedy and anxiety felt by all Iranians around the world. We join with members of the Iranian faculty at the UCI College of Health Sciences to request both a letter of condemnation of the atrocities against members of another academic institution with strong student ties to UCI and the provision of psychological and other necessary support to UCI members who have been afflicted by these developments. We join the other universities in the UC system that have already released statements and acted against these atrocities.


We are concluding our summer mentoring program this week (the end of July 2022) and want to thank everyone involved for their help. We are adding two items (below) via video clips. The first summarizes the work done in the nine different modules taught this summer.( video B which I will send) The second describes work done on how to combat prejudice and includes video descriptions of work done by students in Political Science 138 taught spring term 2022 and funded by an Illuminations grant from the Chancellor. We are proud of the work done by the students featured in both videos and are grateful for the financial support. (Final Project Introducation Video)




To potential applicants. We are grateful for the overwhelming interest in our mentoring program. We have had so many requests that we have added a 9th module: Ghosts’ Stories: Trauma, Memory and Legacies of Violence, taught by Kiyaan Parikh, a Graduate Student in Political Science. All other modules are now fully-booked and are closed. If you are interested in module 9, feel free to apply online. This module addresses political violence and trauma and how people can survive and recover from such trauma. (See full description of module 9 below.) Otherwise, we regret that our other modules are completely full.

To those we have accepted. We look forward to meeting all of our mentees and will include fuller descriptions of each module May 15th in the section on Summer internships on the website. Later details will be sent by June 1st, including a waiver your parents must sign if you are under 18 when you begin the module. If you wish to send a short (1-2 sentences) description and a photograph of yourself, we will post them on our website. This is not required and please note that submitting them gives us consent to post them on the website. We look forward to an exciting summer.
Best, Professor Monroe


2022 Summer Mentoring Program

The 2022 summer mentoring program will be on-line and we will accept students from all over the world for a virtual program of mentoring during the weeks of June 27, 2022 – July 22, 2022.

Please check the Summer Mentoring Program page for further details.



Supporting the Center
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