Neural circuits in the brain that are activated when mitigating criminal sentences

Department of Molecular Neuroimaging, Molecular Imaging Center, National Institute of Radiological Sciences, 4-9-1 Anagawa, Inage-ku, Chiba 263-8555, Japan.
Nature Communications (Impact Factor: 11.47). 03/2012; 3:759. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1757
Source: PubMed


In sentencing guilty defendants, jurors and judges weigh 'mitigating circumstances', which create sympathy for a defendant. Here we use functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure neural activity in ordinary citizens who are potential jurors, as they decide on mitigation of punishment for murder. We found that sympathy activated regions associated with mentalising and moral conflict (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, precuneus and temporo-parietal junction). Sentencing also activated precuneus and anterior cingulate cortex, suggesting that mitigation is based on negative affective responses to murder, sympathy for mitigating circumstances and cognitive control to choose numerical punishments. Individual differences on the inclination to mitigate, the sentence reduction per unit of judged sympathy, correlated with activity in the right middle insula, an area known to represent interoception of visceral states. These results could help the legal system understand how potential jurors actually decide, and contribute to growing knowledge about whether emotion and cognition are integrated sensibly in difficult judgments.

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    • "Other studies reported similar networks associated with moral judgments than Greene et al. [6]. Yamada et al. [8] used fMRI to examine ordinary citizens who were potential jurors, deciding on mitigation of punishment of murder. They found that sympathy activated regions linked with mentalizing and moral conflict (DLPFC, precuneus, right temporo-parietal junction area (RTPJ)), while sentencing was associated with activation in anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and also precuneus. "
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