Influence of bodily harm on neural correlates of semantic and moral decision-making

Neuroimage. 2005 Feb 1;24(3):887-97. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.09.026. Epub 2004 Nov 26.


Moral decision-making is central to everyday social life because the evaluation of the actions of another agent or our own actions made with respect to the norms and values guides our behavior in a community. There is previous evidence that the presence of bodily harm--even if irrelevant for a decision--may affect the decision-making process. While recent neuroimaging studies found a common neural substrate of moral decision-making, the role of bodily harm has not been systematically studied so far. Here we used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how behavioral and neural correlates of semantic and moral decision-making processes are modulated by the presence of direct bodily harm or violence in the stimuli. Twelve participants made moral and semantic decisions about sentences describing actions of agents that either contained bodily harm or not and that could easily be judged as being good or bad or correct/incorrect, respectively. During moral and semantic decision-making, the presence of bodily harm resulted in faster response times (RT) and weaker activity in the temporal poles relative to trials devoid of bodily harm/violence, indicating a processing advantage and reduced processing depth for violence-related linguistic stimuli. Notably, there was no increase in activity in the amygdala and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) in response to trials containing bodily harm. These findings might be a correlate of limited generation of the semantic and emotional context in the anterior temporal poles during the evaluation of actions of another agent related to violence that is made with respect to the norms and values guiding our behavior in a community.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Morals*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Semantics*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology