Objective: To study the brain areas which are activated when normal subjects make moral judgments.
Method: Ten normal adults underwent BOLD functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during the auditory presentation of sentences that they were instructed to silently judge as either "right" or "wrong". Half of the sentences had an explicit moral content ("We break the law when necessary"), the other half comprised factual statements devoid of moral connotation ("Stones are made of water"). After scanning, each subject rated the moral content, emotional valence, and judgment difficulty of each sentence on Likert-like scales. To exclude the effect of emotion on the activation results, individual responses were hemodynamically modeled for event-related fMRI analysis. The general linear model was used to evaluate the brain areas activated by moral judgment.
Results: Regions activated during moral judgment included the frontopolar cortex (FPC), medial frontal gyrus, right anterior temporal cortex, lenticular nucleus, and cerebellum. Activation of FPC and medial frontal gyrus (BA 10/46 and 9) were largely independent of emotional experience and represented the largest areas of activation.
Conclusions: These results concur with clinical observations assigning a critical role for the frontal poles and right anterior temporal cortex in the mediation of complex judgment processes according to moral constraints. The FPC may work in concert with the orbitofrontal and dorsolateral cortex in the regulation of human social conduct.