The amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in morality and psychopathy

Trends Cogn Sci. 2007 Sep;11(9):387-92. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2007.07.003. Epub 2007 Aug 17.


Recent work has implicated the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in morality and, when dysfunctional, psychopathy. This model proposes that the amygdala, through stimulus-reinforcement learning, enables the association of actions that harm others with the aversive reinforcement of the victims' distress. Consequent information on reinforcement expectancy, fed forward to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, can guide the healthy individual away from moral transgressions. In psychopathy, dysfunction in these structures means that care-based moral reasoning is compromised and the risk that antisocial behavior is used instrumentally to achieve goals is increased.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / physiopathology
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Empathy
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Morals*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology