Differential Neural Circuitry and Self-Interest in Real vs Hypothetical Moral Decisions

Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience, Vol. 7, p. 743-751, 2012

9 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2017

See all articles by Oriel FeldmanHall

Oriel FeldmanHall

Brown University Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences

Tim Dalgleish

Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Medical Research Council

Russell Thompson

University of Cambridge - MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

Davy Evans

University of Cambridge - MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

Susanne Schweizer

University of Cambridge - MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

Dean Mobbs

Columbia University

Date Written: 2012

Abstract

Classic social psychology studies demonstrate that people can behave in ways that contradict their intentions especially within the moral domain. We measured brain activity while subjects decided between financial self-benefit (earning money) and preventing physical harm (applying an electric shock) to a confederate under both real and hypothetical conditions. We found a shared neural network associated with empathic concern for both types of decisions. However, hypothetical and real moral decisions also recruited distinct neural circuitry: hypothetical moral decisions mapped closely onto the imagination network, while real moral decisions elicited activity in the bilateral amygdala and anterior cingulate areas essential for social and affective processes. Moreover, during real moral decision-making, distinct regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) determined whether subjects make selfish or pro-social moral choices. Together, these results reveal not only differential neural mechanisms for real and hypothetical moral decisions but also that the nature of real moral decisions can be predicted by dissociable networks within the PFC.

Suggested Citation

FeldmanHall, Oriel and Dalgleish, Tim and Thompson, Russell and Evans, Davy and Schweizer, Susanne and Mobbs, Dean, Differential Neural Circuitry and Self-Interest in Real vs Hypothetical Moral Decisions (2012). Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience, Vol. 7, p. 743-751, 2012, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2896880

Oriel FeldmanHall (Contact Author)

Brown University Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences ( email )

190 Thayer St.
Providence, RI 02912
United States

Tim Dalgleish

Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Medical Research Council ( email )

15 Chaucer Road
Cambridge, CB2 7EF
United Kingdom

Russell Thompson

University of Cambridge - MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit ( email )

15 Chaucer Road
Cambridge, CB2 7EF
United Kingdom

Davy Evans

University of Cambridge - MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit ( email )

15 Chaucer Road
Cambridge, CB2 7EF
United Kingdom

Susanne Schweizer

University of Cambridge - MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit ( email )

15 Chaucer Road
Cambridge, CB2 7EF
United Kingdom

Dean Mobbs

Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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