An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment

Science. 2001 Sep 14;293(5537):2105-8. doi: 10.1126/science.1062872.


The long-standing rationalist tradition in moral psychology emphasizes the role of reason in moral judgment. A more recent trend places increased emphasis on emotion. Although both reason and emotion are likely to play important roles in moral judgment, relatively little is known about their neural correlates, the nature of their interaction, and the factors that modulate their respective behavioral influences in the context of moral judgment. In two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies using moral dilemmas as probes, we apply the methods of cognitive neuroscience to the study of moral judgment. We argue that moral dilemmas vary systematically in the extent to which they engage emotional processing and that these variations in emotional engagement influence moral judgment. These results may shed light on some puzzling patterns in moral judgment observed by contemporary philosophers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mental Processes
  • Morals*
  • Reaction Time