Consequences, Action, and Intention as Factors in Moral Judgments: An fMRI Investigation

Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 4.09). 06/2006; 18(5):803-17. DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2006.18.5.803
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The traditional philosophical doctrines of Consequentialism, Doing and Allowing, and Double Effect prescribe that moral judgments and decisions should be based on consequences, action (as opposed to inaction), and intention. This study uses functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how these three factors affect brain processes associated with moral judgments. We find the following: (1) Moral scenarios involving only a choice between consequences with different amounts of harm elicit activity in similar areas of the brain as analogous non-moral scenarios; (2) Compared to analogous non-moral scenarios, moral scenarios in which action and inaction result in the same amount of harm elicit more activity in areas associated with cognition (such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) and less activity in areas associated with emotion (such as the orbitofrontal cortex and temporal pole); (3) Compared to analogous non-moral scenarios, conflicts between goals of minimizing harm and of refraining from harmful action elicit more activity in areas associated with emotion (orbitofrontal cortex and temporal pole) and less activity in areas associated with cognition (including the angular gyrus and superior frontal gyrus); (4) Compared to moral scenarios involving only unintentional harm, moral scenarios involving intentional harm elicit more activity in areas associated with emotion (orbitofrontal cortex and temporal pole) and less activity in areas associated with cognition (including the angular gyrus and superior frontal gyrus). These findings suggest that different kinds of moral judgment are preferentially supported by distinguishable brain systems.

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    • "Interestingly, the mPFC/PCC/TPJ network seems to be concerned with the representation of the mental states of others as well as with the ''default mode'' of brain activity, which might be involved in self-relatedness processing (D'Argembeau et al., 2005; Schneider et al., 2008). On the other hand, Trolley-type dilemmas were found to elicit greater activation in brain areas involved in working memory and cognitive control (i.e., dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, inferior parietal lobule) as compared to Footbridge-type dilemmas (Borg et al., 2006; Greene, Nystrom, Engell, Darley, & Cohen, 2004; Greene et al., 2001). Moreover, neuropsychological studies on brain-damaged populations consistently showed an atypically high number of utilitarian responses to Footbridge-type dilemmas in patients with focal lesions to the ventromedial prefrontal areas (Ciaramelli, Muccioli, Ladavas, & di Pellegrino, 2007; Koenigs et al., 2007) and in patients with deterioration of prefrontal and anterior temporal areas (Mendez, Anderson, & Shapira, 2005), suggesting a causal role played by brain areas related to emotional processing in rejecting utilitarian resolutions. "
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    ABSTRACT: In any modern society killing is regarded as a severe violation of the legal codes that is subjected to penal judgment. Therefore, it is likely that people take legal consequences into account when deciding about the hypothetical killing of one person in classic moral dilemmas, with legal concerns contributing to decision-making. In particular, by differing for the degree of intentionality and emotional salience, Footbridge- and Trolley-type dilemmas might promote differential assignment of blame and punishment while implicating the same severity of harm. The present study was aimed at comparing the neural activity, subjective emotional reactions, and behavioral choices in two groups of participants who either took (Legal group) or did not take (No Legal group) legal consequences into account when deciding on Footbridge-type and Trolley-type moral dilemmas. Stimulus- and response-locked ERPs were measured to investigate the neural activity underlying two separate phases of the decision process. No difference in behavioral choices was found between groups. However, the No Legal group reported greater overall emotional impact, associated with lower preparation for action, suggesting greater conflict between alternative motor responses representing the different decision choices. In contrast, the Legal group showed an overall dampened affective experience during decision-making associated with greater overall action readiness and intention to act, reflecting lower conflict in responding. On these bases, we suggest that in moral dilemmas legal consequences of actions provide a sort of reference point on which people can rely to support a decision, independent of dilemma type.
    Brain and Cognition 03/2015; 94. DOI:10.1016/j.bandc.2015.01.004 · 2.48 Impact Factor
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    • "However, there is also evidence that Footbridge-style dilemmas elicit greater activity in brain regions involved with emotional processing than Side-track-style dilemmas (Greene et al., 2004; Schaich Borg et al., 2006). Greene (in press) has argued that our automatic emotional response to Footbridge affects our moral judgments. "
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    ABSTRACT: Many people judge that it is permissible to harm one person in order to save many in some circumstances but not in others: it matters how the harm comes about. Researchers have used trolley problems to investigate this phenomenon, eliciting moral judgments or behavioral predictions about hypothetical scenarios where five people can be saved at the cost of harming one other person. We operationalized trolley problems in the laboratory, with economic incentives and real-life consequences, allowing us to observe not only judgments but actual decisions. We varied whether the five were saved by clicking a switch that diverted the harm to the one or by dragging the one in front of the harm. We found differences in moral judgments between the two tasks, but no differences in behavior. The judgments of actors and observers also differed, with observers judging it more right to act. Our results suggest that the difference between moral judgments and actions arises because participants think that doing the right action still involves doing something morally discreditable, and that the morality of taking action does not exhaust the normative reasons for acting.
    Journal of Economic Psychology 01/2015; 40. DOI:10.1016/j.joep.2015.01.001 · 1.21 Impact Factor
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    • "Four question formats were used: wrong, inappropriate, forbidden, and blameworthy and found that people judged moral transgressions more severely when the words “wrong” or “inappropriate” were part of the formulation, than when the words “forbidden” or “blameworthy” were used. Another study found different behavioral effects following the questions Is it wrong to…? vs. Would you? (Borg et al., 2006). The question Would you…? "
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    ABSTRACT: We propose a revised set of moral dilemmas for studies on moral judgment. We selected a total of 46 moral dilemmas available in the literature and fine-tuned them in terms of four conceptual factors (Personal Force, Benefit Recipient, Evitability and Intention) and methodological aspects of the dilemma formulation (word count, expression style, question formats) that have been shown to influence moral judgment. Second, we obtained normative codings of arousal and valence for each dilemma showing that emotional arousal in response to moral dilemmas depends crucially on the factors Personal Force, Benefit Recipient, and Intentionality. Third, we validated the dilemma set confirming that people's moral judgment is sensitive to all four conceptual factors, and to their interactions. Results are discussed in the context of this field of research, outlining also the relevance of our RT effects for the Dual Process account of moral judgment. Finally, we suggest tentative theoretical avenues for future testing, particularly stressing the importance of the factor Intentionality in moral judgment. Additionally, due to the importance of cross-cultural studies in the quest for universals in human moral cognition, we provide the new set dilemmas in six languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Catalan and Danish). The norming values provided here refer to the Spanish dilemma set.
    Frontiers in Psychology 05/2014; 5(607). DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00607 · 2.80 Impact Factor
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