Neural correlates of regulating negative emotions related to moral violations

Neuroimage. 2006 Mar;30(1):313-24. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2005.09.034. Epub 2005 Oct 24.


Previous neuroimaging studies have identified several brain regions associated with regulating emotional responses. Different kinds of emotional stimuli, however, may recruit different regulatory processes and, in turn, recruit different regions. We compared emotion regulation for two types of negative emotional stimuli: those involving moral violations (moral stimuli), and those not involving moral violations (non-moral stimuli). In addition, we investigated whether activation in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), a region implicated previously in specifically moral processing, may instead reflect greater social and emotional content. Ten female subjects were scanned using fMRI while they passively viewed or were instructed to decrease emotional reactions to moral and non-moral pictures closely matched on social and emotional content. Passive viewing of both picture types elicited similar activations in areas related to the processing of social and emotional content, including MPFC and amygdala. During regulation, different patterns of activation in these regions were observed for moral vs. non-moral pictures. These results suggest that the neural correlates of regulating emotional reactions are modulated by the emotional content of stimuli, such as moral violations. In addition, the current findings suggest that some brain regions previously implicated in moral processing reflect the processing of greater social and emotional content in moral stimuli.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Morals*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Personality Inventory
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Visual Perception / physiology*