How does conscience work with difficult choices?

Our conscience is determined by the culture in which we grow up. That provides guidance. The innate building blocks of conscience are in the brain. Two important areas play a role in this: the intellectual and emotional brain area. Due to circumstances, we do not or not always have sufficient control over this. There are numerous causes for this, such as predisposition, traumatic experiences and influencing. As a result, the conscience of young people can be shaped in such a way that it leads to radicalization and crime. Discussing moral dilemmas is a recommended means of forming conscience.

Is conscience innate?

Every person whose brain development is not abnormal has innate building blocks for the development of a conscience. But how the conscience is filled in depends on the environment in which one grows up.

Conscience is influenced by culture

Conscience actually means know together which means that together we know what is good and bad (the moral). We store that in our memory and that provides guidance. How we fill in good or bad depends on the culture in which we grow up. Culture is made by people who are closely connected. This connection can be a family, neighborhood, village, youth group, city, country etc. In general, the culture of people in the Netherlands will not differ greatly, although there are differences. The further people live from each other, the greater the cultural differences will be. For example, politics can strongly influence culture. Think, for example, of North Korea and our country. For example, the culture and, by extension, the conscience of people in North Korea will be shaped differently from ours.

Decisions of conscience

Although in a certain culture we know together what is good and bad, people can still come across situations where we cannot immediately fall back on what is generally valid. We then come across a moral dilemma in which we have to make a decision ourselves. To this end, we will have to weigh feelings and reason in such a way that we can reach a responsible decision for ourselves. Moral dilemmas are useful tools for clarifying choices in difficult problems of conscience.

Which choice would you make in the situations below and why?

Moral dilemma 1

It is wartime and you are hiding in a basement with a number of other people. Enemy soldiers are outside. Your baby starts crying. If nothing is done, the soldiers will find you and they will kill you, your baby and everyone in the basement. The only way to prevent this is to cover the baby's mouth. If you do this, the baby will die from suffocation. What are you going to do?

Moral dilemma 2

Your parents are refugees and have adapted as well as possible to the culture of the country in which you were born. The culture of your parents' country of origin plays an important role in your upbringing. However, your parents have told you to integrate into today's culture. You come into contact with friends whose parents have the same background as your parents. Some of those friends are rather radical in terms of religion. They take you to religious meetings. Here you will be informed about your parents' country of origin and how things are going there now. There is war. You want to persuade you to fight for that country to establish a state in which the original religion is leading. Your parents warn you. Your friends think you're doing it. Otherwise you fall outside their group. What are you doing?

How do your brains work in decisions of conscience?

There are two systems that are active: the emotional system and the mental system (prefrontal cortex). These two systems are located in different areas of the brain, but have contact with each other. Brain scans, in which individuals are presented with moral dilemmas, show that the closer the situation comes to the person, the more active the emotional system becomes and the further the person's situation is, the more active the intellectual system. If in the above dilemma the baby gets the name of your child then it comes very close and you will be more inclined not to kill your baby. (1)
With people with psychopathic characteristics it appears that the emotional system is less developed or, because of fear, has the upper hand. They tend to make decisions that others see as cruel and inhumane. (2) Examples of this are Hitler, Stalin, Sadam Hussein, Ghadaffi. People with a little or disturbed conscience also appear in your environment.

Causes of problems with conscience formation and conscience decisions


Something went wrong with the formation of the emotional or mental brain area before or during birth. These cases often occur in people with intellectual and / or emotional disabilities.

Traumatic experiences

These are often based on fear, frustration. This may have originated in the past. (Serial) killers often appear to have a past in which assault, incest and bullying were involved. (2)


Here play a role:
  • Education. During the upbringing, a conscience has been developed that is acceptable in family culture but not in culture outside the family. Parents encourage their children to steal.
  • Want to belong to a group. They do not want to fall outside the group and therefore adopt the values ​​and norms of the group. Those values ​​can clash with what others want. A youth group decides to break into a store and steal mobile phones and then resell them.
  • Information. People can be indoctrinated to follow values ​​and norms that replace the thinking power of their own system. They then follow leaders who say what is right and what is wrong. Religious leaders tell others how to interpret and implement religious laws. That innocent victims fall is seen as correct.


We see that many youth groups within the group form their conscience. That has always been and will continue to be so. In itself there is nothing wrong with that. Young people who think differently and act differently give society a certain degree dynamics, which is needed to advance society. However, it becomes problematic if it takes such forms that innocent victims fall. If the cause must be found in aptitude and traumatic experiences, timely help is needed. The situation is different with the influence of education and information. Parents are the first responsible here. They, but also others (school, religious leaders), will have to lay the foundation of the conscience of the youth. Presenting and discussing moral dilemmas in which the choices made by young people, but also for older people, are deepened and discussed are a desirable and necessary tool in this regard.

Video: JORDAN PETERSON - How To Listen to Your Conscience (April 2020).

Leave Your Comment