A causal role for right temporo-parietal junction in signaling moral conflict

Elife. 2018 Dec 18;7:e40671. doi: 10.7554/eLife.40671.


The right temporo-parietal junction (rTPJ) has been proposed to play a key role in guiding human altruistic behavior, but its precise functional contribution to altruism remains unclear. We aimed to disentangle three possible functions of the rTPJ for human altruism, namely: implementing the motivation to help, signaling conflicts between moral and material values, or representing social reputation concerns. Our novel donation-decision task consisted of decisions requiring trade-offs of either positive moral values and monetary cost when donating to a good cause, or negative moral values and monetary benefits when sending money to a bad cause. Disrupting the rTPJ using transcranial magnetic stimulation did not change the general motivation to give or to react to social reputation cues, but specifically reduced the behavioral impact of moral-material conflicts. These findings reveal that signaling moral-material conflict is a core rTPJ mechanism that may contribute to a variety of human moral behaviors.

Keywords: altruism; brain stimulation; cost-benefit; decision making; human; moral; neuroscience; prosocial behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Altruism*
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Morals*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Switzerland
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Young Adult