The neural basis of belief encoding and integration in moral judgment

Neuroimage. 2008 May 1;40(4):1912-20. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.01.057. Epub 2008 Feb 14.


Moral judgment in the mature state depends on "theory of mind", or the capacity to attribute mental states (e.g., beliefs, desires, and intentions) to moral agents. The current study uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the cognitive processes for belief attribution in moral judgment. Participants read vignettes in a 2x2x2 design: protagonists produced either a negative or neutral outcome, based on the belief that they were causing the negative outcome or the neutral outcome; presentation of belief information either preceded or followed outcome information. In each case, participants judged the moral permissibility of the action. The results indicate that while the medial prefrontal cortex is recruited for processing belief valence, the temporo-parietal junction and precuneus are recruited for processing beliefs in moral judgment via two distinct component processes: (1) encoding beliefs and (2) integrating beliefs with other relevant features of the action (e.g., the outcome) for moral judgment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Morals*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Retrospective Moral Judgment
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology


  • Oxygen