Are corporations people too? The neural correlates of moral judgments about companies and individuals

Soc Neurosci. 2015 Apr;10(2):113-25. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2014.978026. Epub 2014 Nov 10.


To investigate whether the legal concept of "corporate personhood" mirrors an inherent similarity in the neural processing of the actions of corporations and people, we measured brain responses to vignettes about corporations and people while participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging. We found that anti-social actions of corporations elicited more intense negative emotions and that pro-social actions of people elicited more intense positive emotions. However, the networks underlying the moral decisions about corporations and people are strikingly similar, including regions of the canonical theory of mind network. In analyzing the activity in these networks, we found differences in the emotional processing of these two types of vignettes: neutral actions of corporations showed neural correlates that more closely resembled negative actions than positive actions. Collectively, these findings indicate that our brains understand and analyze the actions of corporations and people very similarly, with a small emotional bias against corporations.

Keywords: Corporations; MVPA; Moral decision-making; Theory of mind.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Decision Making*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Morals*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Theory of Mind