Influence of bodily harm on neural correlates of semantic and moral decision-making

Berlin NeuroImaging Center, Charité, Humboldt-University, Berlin, Germany.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.36). 03/2005; 24(3):887-97. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.09.026
Source: PubMed


Moral decision-making is central to everyday social life because the evaluation of the actions of another agent or our own actions made with respect to the norms and values guides our behavior in a community. There is previous evidence that the presence of bodily harm--even if irrelevant for a decision--may affect the decision-making process. While recent neuroimaging studies found a common neural substrate of moral decision-making, the role of bodily harm has not been systematically studied so far. Here we used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how behavioral and neural correlates of semantic and moral decision-making processes are modulated by the presence of direct bodily harm or violence in the stimuli. Twelve participants made moral and semantic decisions about sentences describing actions of agents that either contained bodily harm or not and that could easily be judged as being good or bad or correct/incorrect, respectively. During moral and semantic decision-making, the presence of bodily harm resulted in faster response times (RT) and weaker activity in the temporal poles relative to trials devoid of bodily harm/violence, indicating a processing advantage and reduced processing depth for violence-related linguistic stimuli. Notably, there was no increase in activity in the amygdala and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) in response to trials containing bodily harm. These findings might be a correlate of limited generation of the semantic and emotional context in the anterior temporal poles during the evaluation of actions of another agent related to violence that is made with respect to the norms and values guiding our behavior in a community.

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Available from: Hauke R Heekeren, Oct 13, 2015
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    • "Transgression of social norms did not increase activity in the ventral mPFC, but increased activity bilaterally in a dorsal region of the mPFC and in the TPs. Heekeren et al. (2005) used fMRI to determine which brain regions are activated during simple ethical decisions about scenarios devoid of violence, compared to semantic decisions. "
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    ABSTRACT: The present review aimed to check two proposals alternative to the original version of the 'semantic hub' hypothesis, based on Semantic Dementia (SD) data, which assumed that left and right anterior temporal lobes (ATLs) store in a unitary, amodal format all kinds of semantic representations. The first alternative proposal is that the right ATL might subsume non-verbal representations and the left ATL lexical-semantic representations and that only in the advanced stages of SD, when atrophy affects the ATLs bilaterally, the semantic impairment becomes 'multi-modal'. The second alternative suggestion is that right and left ATLs might underlie two different domains of knowledge, because general conceptual knowledge might be supported by the left ATL, and social cognition by the right ATL. Results of the review substantially support the first proposal, showing that the right ATL subsumes non-verbal representations and the left ATL lexical-semantic representations. They are less conclusive about the second suggestion, because the right ATL seems to play a more important role in behavioural and emotional functions than in higher level social cognition. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
    Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 02/2015; 51. DOI:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.02.004 · 8.80 Impact Factor
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    • "Under PLC, the evaluation of moral dilemmas, compared to the non-dilemma condition, elicited broad activations in a moral decision-making network including the medial-frontal lobe, the cingulate cortex, the temporal lobe, and the angular gyrus (cf. Supplementary Table S3) (Greene et al., 2001; Heekeren et al., 2005). As expected, there were no significant activations for the contrast " non-dilemma > dilemma " . "
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    ABSTRACT: Moral decisions and social relationships are often characterized by strong feelings of ambivalence which can be a catalyst for emotional distress and several health-related problems. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) has been identified as a key brain region in monitoring conflicting information, but the neurobiological substrates of ambivalence processing are still widely unknown. We have conducted two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments involving 70 healthy male volunteers to investigate the effects of the neuropeptide oxytocin (OXT) on neural and behavioral correlates of ambivalence. We chose moral decision-making and the imagery of partner infidelity as examples to probe volitional and emotional ambivalence. In both experiments, intranasal OXT diminished neural responses in the ACC to ambivalence. Under OXT, moral dilemma vignettes also elicited a reduced activation in the orbitofrontal cortex, and the imagery of partner infidelity was rated as less arousing. Interestingly, the OXT-induced differential activation in the ACC predicted the magnitude of arousal reduction. Taken together, our findings reveal an unprecedented role of OXT in causing a domain-general decrease of neural responses to ambivalence. By alleviating emotional distress, OXT may qualify as a treatment option for psychiatric disorders with heightened ambivalence sensitivity such as schizophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder.
    Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 11/2014; 10(7). DOI:10.1093/scan/nsu147 · 7.37 Impact Factor
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    • "It has been established that the ITG plays a critical part in recognition and representation of visual objects (Ungerleider, 1982; Nobre et al., 1994; Vandenberghe et al., 1996). The SFG is relevant for social cognition (Moll et al., 2002; Greene et al., 2004; Heekeren et al., 2005; Jacobsen et al., 2006; Moll et al., 2007) and the OFC is known for its central role in emotional processing (Camille et al., 2004; Kringelbach, 2005). Hence, the involvement of these regions in the aesthetic judgments is also in agreement with aesthetic theories which pose that aesthetic judgment consists of perceptual, cognitive and emotional processing (Berlyne, 1971; Cupchik, 2002; Di Dio et al., 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: Is moral beauty different from facial beauty? Two functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments were performed to answer this question. Experiment 1 investigated the network of moral aesthetic judgments and facial aesthetic judgments. Participants performed aesthetic judgments and gender judgments on both faces and scenes containing moral acts. The conjunction analysis of the contrasts ‘facial aesthetic judgment > facial gender judgment’ and ‘scene moral aesthetic judgment > scene gender judgment’ identified the common involvement of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), inferior temporal gyrus and medial superior frontal gyrus, suggesting that both types of aesthetic judgments are based on the orchestration of perceptual, emotional and cognitive components. Experiment 2 examined the network of facial beauty and moral beauty during implicit perception. Participants performed a non-aesthetic judgment task on both faces (beautiful vs common) and scenes (containing morally beautiful vs neutral information). We observed that facial beauty (beautiful faces > common faces) involved both the cortical reward region OFC and the subcortical reward region putamen, whereas moral beauty (moral beauty scenes > moral neutral scenes) only involved the OFC. Moreover, compared with facial beauty, moral beauty spanned a larger-scale cortical network, indicating more advanced and complex cerebral representations characterizing moral beauty.
    Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 10/2014; 10(6). DOI:10.1093/scan/nsu123 · 7.37 Impact Factor
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