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

See all articles by Gewnhi Park

Gewnhi Park

Azusa Pacific University

Andreas Kappes

University of Oxford

Yeojin Rho

Claremont Colleges - Claremont Graduate University

Jay Van Bavel

New York University (NYU) - Department of Psychology

Date Written: September 19, 2015

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Park, Gewnhi and Kappes, Andreas and Rho, Yeojin and Van Bavel, Jay, At the Heart of Morality Lies Neuro-Visceral Integration: Lower Cardiac Vagal Tone Predicts Utilitarian Moral Judgment (September 19, 2015). Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, June 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2662845 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2662845

Gewnhi Park

Azusa Pacific University ( email )

901 East Alosta Ave. Wynn 105
Azusa, CA 91702
United States

Andreas Kappes

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

Yeojin Rho

Claremont Colleges - Claremont Graduate University ( email )

150 E. Tenth Street
Claremont, CA 91711
United States

Jay Van Bavel (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Department of Psychology ( email )

New York, NY 10003
United States

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