The psychological bases of wonder or guilt are not learned. We are born with them, and later religions help shape them and call them “moral.”

Christians seek forgiveness, and atheists too, from the day they are born.

Dacher Keltner is not a saint, a missionary or a man of faith, but his name has appeared more than once in those triptychs that are distributed in churches. Between news about the new reverend of the Episcopal congregation or poems in which God appears among the lilacs in the garden, the theories of this psychologist from the University of California at Berkeley often sprout despite being totally contrary to those of the regulars to the churches.

In the end, they both believe in doing good and not looking at whom. But unlike the church, Keltner believes that altruism and the ability to do good are inherent in the human being.

This researcher, born in Jalisco, Mexico to a hippie couple (officially members of the counterculture) in the late sixties, decided to focus his academic career on emotions, something that raised many eyebrows at the time. “The history of my life for years is to explain to people that what I study can and should be approached from a scientific perspective,” he tells EL ESPAÑOL. In fact, one of his last jobs outside of Berkeley was scientifically advising the creators of the hit movie. Reverse.

“We have known for a long time that what we call moral is not something cultural or learned, but biological,” Keltne explains. He and his group focus on studying the emotions that make people Good Samaritans.

In particular, Keltner is obsessed with what in English they call awe, and that in Spanish can be translated as astonishment, but also like awe. “When people experience this feeling, they have been shown to be more inclined to show empathic or charitable behaviors, and they are also able to handle stress better,” he says.

Astonishment and guilt, the perfect duo

The other dominant feeling in any religion worth its salt is guilt. A few days ago, a group of Spanish researchers published an article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience explaining how these emotions are modifying, through language, our behavior in an automatic and unconscious way.

“The basic idea is that this view that cognition, which is language, and emotion go from different sides, which is what classical medicine and McLennan’s model defend, is broken”, explains Laura Jiménez Ortega, researcher in the Mixed Center for Evolution and Human Behavior of the Carlos III Institute and the Complutense University. “It turns out that expression and emotion are combined without us even being aware.”

For the researcher, “in religious or moral thought there is undoubtedly a brutal emotional component, guilt is a very powerful emotion and now in fact we have started a project dedicated exclusively to guilt, which is a component of many religions ”.

Guilt is not something that is restricted, of course, to religions. Jiménez Ortega believes that he has accompanied the human being since its inception. “It may be that a man is hunting as a team, fails in his task of harassing the animal and the hunt is not completed”, and that is where that feeling appears.

What religion has contributed to is interpreting this complex emotion. Guilt is, for Christians, the step prior to repentance that grants restoration from sin. In Luke, chapter 17, Jesus says: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him. “

Among other things, what current psychology and neuroscience are doing is analyzing which part of the feeling of guilt is original and which part has been culturally modified to, for example, apply a greater negative feeling to it.

According to this neuroscientist, “religion helps make guilt less or even uses that guilt” to promote its messages. “Guilt is activated without you being aware of it and, on many occasions, you can feel responsible for something but not guilty, modern psychology goes that way, making people not feel guilty but responsible: you have the need to make amends but without that negative emotion, inherent in many cases but which makes the person dust. “