At the Heart of Morality Lies Neuro-Visceral Integration: Lower Cardiac Vagal Tone Predicts Utilitarian Moral Judgment
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, June 2016
35 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2015 Last revised: 21 Jun 2016
Date Written: September 19, 2015
Extensive research has examined the role of countervailing emotional and cognitive systems in moral judgment. We speculated that typical human moral judgments may rely on the integration of neural and visceral processes. Specifically, the present research examined whether moral judgment was associated with cardiac vagal tone, a physiological proxy for neuro-visceral integration. The traditional bipolar deontology-utilitarianism index was correlated with resting heart rate variability — an index of cardiac vagal tone — such that more utilitarian judgments were associated with lower heart rate variability. Follow-up analyses using process dissociation, which independently quantifies utilitarian and deontological moral inclinations, provided further evidence that utilitarian (but not deontological) judgments were associated with lower heart rate variability. There results suggest that moral preferences may be sensitive to the functional integration of neural and visceral systems.
Keywords: Moral judgment, vagal tone, neurovisceral integration, heart rate variability, utilitarianism, cardiac
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