Where in the brain is morality? Everywhere and maybe nowhere

Soc Neurosci. 2012;7(1):1-10. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2011.569146. Epub 2011 Jun 12.


The neuroscience of morality has focused on how morality works and where it is in the brain. In tackling these questions, researchers have taken both domain-specific and domain-general approaches-searching for neural substrates and systems dedicated to moral cognition versus characterizing the contributions of domain-general processes. Where in the brain is morality? On one hand, morality is made up of complex cognitive processes, deployed across many domains and housed all over the brain. On the other hand, no neural substrate or system that uniquely supports moral cognition has been found. In this review, we will discuss early assumptions of domain-specificity in moral neuroscience as well as subsequent investigations of domain-general contributions, taking emotion and social cognition (i.e., theory of mind) as case studies. Finally, we will consider possible cognitive accounts of a domain-specific morality: Does uniquely moral cognition exist?

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Morals*