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The Price of Your Soul: Neural Evidence for the Non-Utilitarian Representation of Sacred Values

16 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2011  

Gregory Berns

Emory University

Emily Bell

Emory University

C. Mónica Capra

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Michael Prietula

Emory University - Goizueta Business School

Sara E. Moore

Emory University

Brittany Anderson

Emory University

Jeremy Ginges

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Institute for Social Research (ISR)

Scott Atran

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Date Written: March 15, 2011

Abstract

Sacred values, such as those associated with religious or ethnic identity, underlie many important individual and group decisions in life, and individuals typically resist attempts to trade-off their sacred values in exchange for material benefits. Deontological theory suggests that sacred values are processed based on rights and wrongs irrespective of outcomes, while utilitarian theory suggests they are processed based on costs and benefits of potential outcomes, but which mode of processing an individual naturally uses is unknown. The study of decisions over sacred values is difficult because outcomes cannot typically be realized in a laboratory, and hence little is known about the neural representation and processing of sacred values. We utilized an experimental paradigm that used integrity as a proxy for sacredness and which paid real money to induce individuals to sell their personal values. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we found that values that people refused to sell (sacred values) were associated with increased activity in the left temporoparietal junction and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, regions previously associated with semantic rule retrieval. This suggests that sacred values affect behavior through the retrieval and processing of deontic rules and not through a utilitarian evaluation of costs and benefits.

Keywords: sacred values, fMRI, neuroeconomics

Suggested Citation

Berns, Gregory and Bell, Emily and Capra, C. Mónica and Prietula, Michael and Moore, Sara E. and Anderson, Brittany and Ginges, Jeremy and Atran, Scott, The Price of Your Soul: Neural Evidence for the Non-Utilitarian Representation of Sacred Values (March 15, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1817982 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1817982

Gregory Berns (Contact Author)

Emory University ( email )

201 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

Emily Bell

Emory University ( email )

201 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

C. Mónica Capra

affiliation not provided to SSRN

No Address Available

Michael Prietula

Emory University - Goizueta Business School ( email )

1300 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322-2722
United States

Sara E. Moore

Emory University ( email )

201 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

Brittany Anderson

Emory University ( email )

201 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

Jeremy Ginges

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Institute for Social Research (ISR) ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248
United States

Scott Atran

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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