Article

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: 10.74). 03/2012; 3:759. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1757
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT 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.

Full-text

Available from: Motoichiro Kato, May 30, 2015
0 Followers
 · 
196 Views
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Mounting evidence suggest that the right-hemisphere (RH) has a relative advantage, over the left-hemisphere (LH), in mediating social intelligence - identifying social stimuli, understanding the intentions of other people, awareness of the dynamics in social relationships, and successful handling of social interactions. Furthermore, a review and synthesis of the literature suggest that pro-social attitudes and behaviors are associated with physiological activity in the RH, whereas unsocial and anti-social tendencies are mediated primarily by the LH. This hemispheric asymmetry is rooted in several neurobiological and functional differences between the two hemispheres. (I) Positive social interactions often require inhibiting one's immediate desires and considering the perspectives and needs of others. Given that self-control is mediated by the RH, pro-social emotions and behaviors are, therefore, inherently associated with the RH as it subserves the brain's self-restraint mechanisms. (II) The RH mediates experiences of vulnerability. It registers the relative clumsiness and motor weakness of the left limbs, and it is involved, more than the LH, in processing threats and mediating fear. Emotional states of vulnerability trigger the need for affiliation and sociality, therefore the RH has a greater role in mediating pro-social attitudes and behaviors. (III) The RH mediates a holistic mode of representing the world. Holistic perception emphasizes similarities rather than differences, takes a long-term perspective, is associated with divergent thinking and seeing other points-of-view, and it mediates a personal mode of relating to people. All these features of holistic perception facilitate a more empathetic attitude toward others and pro-social behaviors.
    03/2014; 23(1):1-27. DOI:10.5607/en.2014.23.1.1
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Research has shown that moral judgments depend on the capacity to engage in mental state reasoning. In this article, we will first review behavioral and neural evidence for the role of mental states (e.g., people's beliefs, desires, intentions) in judgments of right and wrong. Second, we will consider cases where mental states appear at first to matter less (i.e., when people assign moral blame for accidents and when explicit information about mental states is missing). Third, we will consider cases where mental states, in fact, matter less, specifically, in cases of “purity” violations (e.g., committing incest, consuming taboo foods). We will discuss how and why mental states do not matter equivalently across the multi-dimensional space of morality. In the fourth section of this article, we will elaborate on the possibility that norms against harmful actions and norms against “impure” actions serve distinct functions – for regulating interpersonal interactions (i.e., harm) versus for protecting the self (i.e., purity). In the fifth and final section, we will speculate on possible differences in how we represent and reason about other people's mental states versus our own beliefs and intentions. In addressing these issues, we aim to provide insight into the complex structure and distinct functions of mental state reasoning and moral cognition. We conclude that mental state reasoning allows us to make sense of other moral agents in order to understand their past actions, to predict their future behavior, and to evaluate them as potential friends or foes.
    Social and Personality Psychology Compass 08/2013; 7(8). DOI:10.1111/spc3.12044
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Previous studies identified a network of brain regions involved in the perception of norm violations, including insula, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and right temporoparietal junction area (RTPJ). Activations in these regions are suggested to reflect the perception of norm violations and unfairness. The current study aimed to test this hypothesis by exploring whether a personal disposition to perceive the world as being just is related to neural responses to moral evaluations. The just-world-hypothesis describes a cognitive bias to believe in a just world in which everyone gets what he or she deserves and deserves what he or she gets. Since it has been demonstrated that ACC, RTPJ, and insula are involved in the perception of unfairness, we hypothesized that individual differences in the belief in a just world are reflected by different activations of these brain areas. Participants were confronted with scenarios describing norm-violating or -confirming behavior. FMRI results revealed an activation of dorsal ACC, RTPJ, and insula when perceiving norm violations, but only activity in insula/somatosensory cortex correlated with the belief in a just world. Thus, our results suggest a role for insula/somatosensory cortex for the belief in a just world.
    Social Neuroscience 06/2014; DOI:10.1080/17470919.2014.922493 · 2.87 Impact Factor