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, 6 (4), 398-413

Neural Basis of Moral Verdict and Moral Deliberation

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Neural Basis of Moral Verdict and Moral Deliberation

Jana Schaich Borg et al. Soc Neurosci.

Abstract

How people judge something to be morally right or wrong is a fundamental question of both the sciences and the humanities. Here we aim to identify the neural processes that underlie the specific conclusion that something is morally wrong. To do this, we introduce a novel distinction between "moral deliberation," or the weighing of moral considerations, and the formation of a "moral verdict," or the commitment to one moral conclusion. We predict and identify hemodynamic activity in the bilateral anterior insula and basal ganglia that correlates with committing to the moral verdict "this is morally wrong" as opposed to "this is morally not-wrong," a finding that is consistent with research from economic decision-making. Using comparisons of deliberation-locked vs. verdict-locked analyses, we also demonstrate that hemodynamic activity in high-level cortical regions previously implicated in morality--including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and temporoparietal junction--correlates primarily with moral deliberation as opposed to moral verdicts. These findings provide new insights into what types of processes comprise the enterprise of moral judgment, and in doing so point to a framework for resolving why some clinical patients, including psychopaths, may have intact moral judgment but impaired moral behavior.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Wrong (controversial + non-controversial) > not-wrong (controversial + non-controversial). Results are overlaid on SPM2 canonical T1 image, FDR corrected, p < .01, clusters ≥ 10 contiguous voxels. Bottom: wrong (controversial + non-controversial) > not-wrong (controversial + non-controversial) in red overlapped with non-controversial wrong > non-controversial not wrong in green.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Controversial (wrong + not wrong) > non-controversial (wrong + not wrong)
Results are overlaid on SPM2 canonical T1 image, FDR corrected, p < .01, clusters ≥ 10 contiguous voxels.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Dissociation in moral deliberation and moral verdict as measured by the generalized eta squared statistic
Error bars represent SDs. Black bar: variance associated with wrong vs. not wrong. White bar: variance associated with controversial vs. non-controversial. Striped bar: variance associated with interaction between wrong vs. not wrong and controversial vs. non-controversial.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Effects of different statistical designs on non-controversial wrong > non-controversial not wrong and controversial > non-controversial contrasts. Activity in the amygdala (top row), insula, and basal ganglia (second to top row) decreased when stimulus-locked models were used. Activity in the vmPFC, posterior cingulate (second to bottom row), and areas around the TPJ (bottom row) increased when stimulus-locked models were used.

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