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

Article (PDF Available)inNeuroImage 24(3):887-97 · March 2005with252 Reads
DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.09.026 · Source: PubMed
Abstract
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.
Influence of bodily harm on neural correlates of semantic and
moral decision-making
Hauke R. Heekeren,
a,b,
*
Isabell Wartenburger,
a,b,c,d
Helge Schmidt,
a,b
Kristin Prehn,
a,b
Hans-Peter Schwintowski,
e
and Arno Villringer
a,b
a
Berlin NeuroImaging Center, Charite´, Humboldt-University, Berlin, Germany
b
Department of Neurology, Charite´, Humboldt-University, Berlin, Germany
c
Department of Patholinguistics, University of Potsdam, Germany
d
Department of Neurology II, Otto von Guericke University, Magdeburg, Germany
e
Department of Law, Humboldt-University, Berlin, Germany
Received 1 July 2004; revised 6 September 2004; accepted 17 September 2004
Available online 26 November 2004
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 sent ences
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.
D 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Decision-making; Social behavior; Moral judgment; Social
cognition; Brain mapping; fMRI; Bodily harm; Violence; Emotion
Introduction
Morality is a system of norms and values guiding our behavior
in a community. Moral decision-making, the evaluation of the
actions of another agent or our own actions made with respect to
these norms and values, is therefore central to everyday social life.
Psychological research on moral decision-making has long
been dominated by cognitive models (Kohlberg, 1969; Piaget,
1965). Recent models of moral decision-making emphasize the
role of emotions (Haidt, 2001, 2003; Pizarro, 2000). The social
intuitionist model by Haidt (2001) posits that fast and automatic
affective intuitions are the primary source of moral judgments. In
this model, conscious deliberations play only a minor causal role
and are only used to construct post hoc justifications for judgments
that have already occurred. Moreover, some neuropsychological
models claim that emotions are important to adapt behavior to
environmental demands (Anderson et al., 1999; Damasio, 1996).
A first hint that social and moral decisions might have a
neurobiological basis came from the classic case of Phineas Gage,
a railroad worker who’s decision-making in real life was impaired
after his ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) was damaged
(Damasio et al., 1994; Harlow, 1848). More recent case reports
also indicate that damage to the ventral and medial prefrontal
cortex (PFC) leads to deficits in social and moral decision-making
(Anderson et al., 1999; Bechara et al., 2000; Dimitrov et al., 1999).
Patients with medial prefrontal or orbitofrontal lesions acquired in
adulthood display irresponsible and inappropriate behavior but
show normal basic cognitive abilities and no disturbance in moral
decision and reasoning tasks. Similar lesions acquired in early
childhood prevent the acquisition of factual knowledge about
accepted standards of moral behavior and lead to both severely
impaired social behavior and defective social and moral reasoning
(Anderson et al., 1999).
Recent neuroimaging studies using functional magnetic reso-
nance imaging (fMRI) endorse results from these lesion studies and
1053-8119/$ - see front matter D 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.09.026
* Corresponding author. Berlin NeuroImaging Center, Charite´,
Humboldt-University, Schumannst r. 20/21, Berlin, 10117 Germany.
Fax: +49 30 450 560 952.
E-mail address: hauke.heekeren@charite.de (H.R. Heekeren).
Available online on ScienceDirect (www.sciencedirect.com).
www.elsevier.com/locate/ynimg
NeuroImage 24 (2005) 887 897
find that the VMPFC is engaged in moral cognition in healthy
controls (Greene et al., 2001; Heekeren et al., 2003; Moll et al.,
2001, 2002a). Furthermore, these studies found a common neural
substrate of moral decision-making processes consisting of
VMPFC, orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), posterior cingulate cortex
(PCC), and posterior superior temporal sulcus (PSTS) (for review,
see Casebeer, 2003; Greene and Haidt, 2002; Moll et al., 2003). In
these studies, moral judgment was investigated with different tasks.
Greene et al. (2001) found that reasoning about complex ethical
dilemmas containing illustrations of violence that are emotionally
engaging (dFootbridge dilemmaT, dilemmas in which physical
harm is caused to another person directly by the agent) as
compared to dilemmas that are less emotionally engaging (dTrolley
dilemmaT, dilemmas in which physical harm is caused to
another person only indirectly) activates the medial PFC
(Brodmann area [BA] 9/10), PCC, and bilateral PSTS. Moll
et al. (2002b) used passive viewing of pictures portraying
emotionally charged, unpleasant soci al scenes, representing
moral violations containing violence (physical assaults, war
scenes) or devoid of violence (poor children abandoned in the
streets), and found that orbital and medial PFC as well as
PSTS are recruited by passively viewing scenes evocative of
moral emotions. In another study, Moll et al. (2002a) used
sentences containing violence (dHe shot the victim to deathT)or
not (dThe judge condemned the innocent manT) and found that
a similar network comprising the medial OFC, the temporal
pole, and the PSTS of the left hemisphere is specifically
activated by moral judgments. Using unambiguous scenarios not
containing direct bodily harm or violence, our group recently
found that simple moral decisions compared to semantic
decisions activate left PSTS and middle temporal gyrus,
bilateral temporal poles, left lateral PFC, and bilateral VMPFC
(Heekeren et al., 2003).
In summary, in Greene’s study, both the personal and the
impersonal conditions contained direct bodily harm or violence
(Greene et al., 2001); in Moll’s studies, some of the sentences and
pictures contained direct bodily harm (Moll et al., 2002a, 2002b);
and in our recent study, scenarios were devoid of violence/direct
bodily harm. That is, previous studies did not control for the factor
bodily harm in the stimuli, and it is therefore unclear how the
neural and behavioral correlates of moral decision-making pro-
cesses are modulated by the presence of direct bodily harm or
violence in the stimuli.
Illustrations of direct bodily harm or violence in linguistic
stimuli are threat cues, and behavioral studies found that
threatening stimuli are processed faster than positive stimuli.
For example, threatening faces are detected faster and more
accurately than friendly faces (Ohman et al., 2001), and
emotional words with negative valence are detected faster than
emotional words with positive valence (Dijksterhuis and Aarts,
2003). Results of a recent lesion study suggest a specific role of
the left amygdala in the perception of aversive words (Anderson
and Phelps, 2001). Using positron emission tomography (PET),
Isenberg et al. (1999) found greater increases in blood flow
bilaterally in the amygdala during color naming of threat words
than during color naming of neutral words. Some fMRI studies
showed that the amygdala is responsive to aversive or threatening
words relative to neutral words (Hamann and Mao, 2002; Strange
et al., 2000; Tabert et al., 2001; for review, see Zald, 2003), while
results of other studies did not show greater responsiveness of the
amygdala to linguistic stimuli with negative valence than to
neutral ones (Beauregard et al., 1997; Luo et al., 2004; Maddock
and Buonocore, 1997; Whalen et al., 1998). Greater increases in
blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal in the left PCC
were found when subjects processed threat-related words com-
pared to neutral words (Maddock and Buonocore, 1997). Because
the PCC is most commonly activated in studies comparing
processing of emotional stimuli (words or pictures) with neutral
stimuli, Maddock (1999) suggested that this region is involved in
processing the emotional significance of words and objects.
However, results of other studies did not indicate increased
responsiveness of the PCC to linguistic stimuli with negative
valence relative to neutral ones (Elliott et al., 2000; Hamann and
Mao, 2002; Isenberg et al., 1999; Luo et al., 2004; Tabert et al.,
2001).
To investigate how the neural and behavioral correlates of
moral and semantic decision-making processes are modulated by
the presence of illustrations of direct bodily harm or violence in
the stimuli, we used event-related fMRI while participants made
moral and semantic decisions about sentences describing actions
of agents that either contained direct bodily harm or not and
that could easily be judged as being correct or incorrect
(compare Table 1).
Based on previous findings, we hypothesized that a matrix of
brain regions including VMPFC, PSTS, PCC, and the temporal
poles would be activated more during moral decision-making than
during semantic decision-making. Furthermore, we hypothesized
that subjects would respond faster during processing sentences
containing bodily harm/violence. Founded on some of the previous
neuroimaging studies mentioned above, we expected that activity in
amygdala and PCC would be modulated by the presence of direct
bodily harm.
Table 1
Examples of sentence material
Devoid of bodily harm Containing bodily harm
Introductory sentence (with cue) Correct A hat sich von B 200 EUR geliehen.
A borrowed 200 EUR from B.
Second sentence (decision) Semantic decision-making Correct A geht qber die befahrene Strasse. A verbindet eine stark blutende Wunde.
A crosses the very busy street. A dresses a very bloody wound.
Incorrect A qberquert eben das geliehene Geld. A verbindet das stark blutende Geld.
A just crosses the borrowed money. A dresses the very bloody money.
Moral decision-making Appropriate A hat das Geld bald zurqckgezahlt. A wird von einem Baum erschlagen.
A paid the money back promptly. A is hit by a tree.
Inappropriate A hat das Geld nie zurqckgezahlt. A schl7gt B eine blutige Nase.
A never paid the money back. A gives B a bloody nose.
H.R. Heekeren et al. / NeuroImage 24 (2005) 887–897888
Materials and methods
Subjects
Twelve right-handed healthy subjects (10 male, age 25.75 F
1.54 years) participated. All had normal or corrected vision, no past
neurological or psychiatric history, and no structural brain
abnormality. The study was approved by the local ethics committee
and written consent was obtained from each subject prior to
investigation.
Linguistic material and task
To test how the presence of direct bodily harm influences the
behavioral a nd neural correlates of moral and semantic
decisions, we used four different conditions: moral and semantic
decision-making on sentences either containing bodily harm or
not.
During each condition, an introductory part of a sentence was
presented together with a cue instructing the subjects either to
decide whether the following, second part of the sentence was
semantically correct or incorrect (semantic decision, cue: dsT)or
to decide whether the actions described in the sentences were
appropriate or inappropriate (moral decisions, cue: dmT). The
introductory parts never contained moral transgressions or direct
bodily harm. In the moral decision-making condition, the
introductory part of the sentence was followed by a part
describing appropriate or inappropriate actions that either
contained direct bodily harm/violence (MDv) or were devoid of
bodily harm/violence (MDnv) (see Table 1 for examples of the
sentence material). In the semantic decision-making condition, the
second part of the sentence either contained direct bodily harm
(SDv) or was devoid of violence (SDnv) and was either correct or
contained a semantic anomaly (see Table 1). Each condition
comprised 30 trials. Note that the conditions were not crossed,
that is, to make sure participants would make semantic judg-
ments, sentences presented in this condition never described
morally incorrect behavior. Similarly, to prevent subjects from
making semantic decisions during the moral decision condition,
sentences presented during this condition never contained
semantic anomalies. All sentences were unambiguous and both
orthographically and syntactically correct. Sentences were con-
trolled for number of words and number of characters. Five
independent subjects judged the sentences to be clearly morally
and semantically appropriate/inappropriate and correct/incorrect,
respectively.
Sentences were presented using the dExperimental Run Time
SystemT software (ERTS 3.28, BeriSoft Cooperation, Frankfurt/M.,
Germany) and were projected onto a back-projection screen. Each
part of the sentences was presented for 3.5 s, the second immediately
after the first one. The subjects were instructed to respond as quickly
and correctly as possible with a button press. Between two trials,
subjects fixated a cross presented foveally. Trials were presented in a
rapid event-related design with jittered interstimulus intervals (ISI,
minimum 2 s, maximum 12 s, mean 7 s).
Data acquisition and analysis
Behavioral data
Response times (RTs), defined as the time between the
appearance of the second part of the sentence and the button
press, were measured while subjects were in the scanner. We
used paired t tests to compare reaction times between conditions
(post hoc Bonferroni corrected). Immediately after the scanning
session, subjects rated the sentences regarding immorality and
emotionality of their content, as well as the difficulty of the
moral/semantic judgment on a scale from 1 (no immorality, no
emotional content, low difficulty, respectively) to 10 (high
immorality, strong emotional content, high difficulty, respec-
tively). We used nonparametric Wilcoxon tests to compare
conditions regarding difficulty, emotionality, and immorality
(post hoc Bonferroni corrected). For technical reasons, response
times were not recorded for one of the female subjects, this
subject’s MRI data were therefore exclude d from further
analysis.
MRI data
We used a 1.5-T Siemens Magnetom Vision scanner
(Erlangen, Germany) with a standard head coil to acquire
echoplanar T2*-weighted images with blood oxygenation level
dependent (BOLD) contrast. The first six volumes were discarded
to allow for T1 equilibration effects. During the functional scan,
406 volumes (forty 3-mm axial slices with 4-mm in-plane
resolution covering the whole brain) were acquired every 4.2 s
(TE 30 ms, flip angle 908, ascending acquisition of images, field
of view 256
256 mm, 64
64 matrix, interslice gap 0.45
mm). Note that we used rather thin slices (3 mm) and a lower TE
(30 ms) to reduce susceptibility artifacts. After the acquisition of
functional images, a set of high-resolution T1-weighted images
was acquired.
fMRI data analysis
MRI data were analyzed using a mixed effects approach
(commonly referred to as random effects) within the framework
of the general linear model as implemented in FMRI Expert
Analysis Tool (FEAT) Version 5.00, part of FSL (FMRIB’s
Software Library, http://www.fmrib.ox.ac.uk/fsl). The following
prestatistics processing was applied: slice time correction (AFNI,
http://afni.nimh.nih.gov (Cox, 1996)), motion correction using
MCFLIRT (Jenkinson et al., 2002), nonbrain removal using BET
(Smith, 2002), spatial smoothing using a Gaussian kernel of 12
mm FWHM, mean-based intensity normalization of all volumes by
the same factor; high pass temporal filtering (Gaussian-weighted
LSF straight line fitting, with sigma = 50.0 s). Time series
statistical analysis was carried out using FMRIB’s Improved Linear
Model (FILM) with local autocorrelation correction (Woolrich et
al., 2001). Time series were modeled using event-related regressors
for each condition (the second parts of the sentences were modeled
as regressors of interest, the introductory parts of the sentences
were modeled as regressors of no interest) and convolved with the
hemodynamic response function. To control for potential RT
differences between the conditions, we used an additional regressor
that was modeled using RT during each trial as a parametric
modulation.
Contrast images were computed for each condition and the
contrasts of interest for each subject and transformed, after spatial
normalization, into standard (MNI152) space (Jenkinson et al.,
2002). Group effects were computed using the transformed
contrast images in a mixed effects model treating subjects as
random. In the 2nd level analysis, Z (Gaussianized T) statistic
images were thresholded at Z N 3.1, corresponding to P b 0.001,
H.R. Heekeren et al. / NeuroImage 24 (2005) 887–897 889
uncorrected and a cluster extent threshold of 5 voxel, unless
otherwise noted.
The coordinates of the voxels used in the region of interest
(ROI) analyses of signal changes in the amygdala and the posterior
cingulate cortex were based on those specified by the Talairach
Daemon database (Lancaster et al., 2000), as implemented in AFNI
(Cox, 1996).
Results
Behavioral and psychological measures
Response times were 2087 F 358 ms (mean F standard
deviation) during moral decision-making on sentences devoid of
bodily harm (MDnv), 2277 F 263 ms during semantic decision-
making on sentences devoid of bodily harm (SDnv), 1907 F 436
ms during moral decision-making on sentences containing bodily
harm (MDv), and 2173 F 295 ms during semantic decision-
making on sentences containing bodily harm (SDv), respectively
(compare Fig. 1). Moral decisions were processed faster than
semantic decisions both during trials containing direct bodily harm
(P = 0.003, paired t test, Bonferroni corrected) and trials devoid of
bodily harm (P = 0.01, only trend because of adjusted a = 0.0083).
Presence of bodily harm led to small but statistically significant
reductions in response time during both moral (P = 0.004) and
semantic (P = 0.004) decision-making (see Fig. 1). Analysis of the
difficulty ratings revealed no differences between the four
conditions. As expected, emotionality ratings were higher in the
presence of bodily harm for both moral (P = 0.005, nonparametric
Fig. 1. Behavioral data acquired during fMRI experiment and post hoc ratings. Response time is displayed as mean and standard error of the mean (SEM). Post
hoc ratings are displayed as median and SEM.
H.R. Heekeren et al. / NeuroImage 24 (2005) 887–897890
Wilcoxon test, Bonferroni corrected) and semantic decisions (P =
0.007). Immorality ratings were higher in the presence of bodily
harm during moral (P = 0.002) but not during semantic decision-
making (P = 0.18).
fMRI results
Main effect of task
Moral decision-making vs. semantic decision-making. As hypothe-
sized, a distributed frontotemporal network showed a larger BOLD
response during moral decision-making as compared to semantic
decision-making (compare Table 2 and Fig. 2). The medial frontal
gyrus (VMPFC), bilateral BA 10/11, as well as right BA 9 showed
larger responses to moral than to semantic decision-making. Main
foci of activation in the temporal lobe were found bilaterally in
PSTS (BA 39) and bilaterally in the temporal pole (BA 21).
Furthermore, the right PCC (BA 31) showed a larger response to
moral as compared to semantic decision-making.
Semantic decisio n-making v s. moral decision-making. Three
regions in the left hemisphere showed a larger response to
semantic than to moral decision-making, including the dorsolateral
PFC (DLPFC, middle frontal gyrus [MFG], BA 46), insula (BA
13), and supramarginal gyrus (BA 40, compare Table 2 and Fig. 2).
Main effect of bodily harm
A main effect of bodily harm was only found in the bilateral
temporal poles (middle temporal gyrus [MTG], BA 21), which
showed a smaller BOLD response in the presence of bodily harm
as compared to trials devoid of bodily harm (see Table 2 and Fig.
3). Note that the bilateral temporal poles also showed a main
effect of task (see above). None of the a priori hypothesized
regions (i.e., amygdala, PCC) showed a main effect of bodily
harm at a threshold of P b 0.001. To substantiate these negative
findings in the amygdala and the PCC, we searched for voxels
that showed a main effect of bodily harm/violence at a lenient
threshold (Z N 1.7, corresponding to P = 0.05, uncorrected) in
these two regions (anatomically defined regions of interest, see
Fig. 4). We found 11 voxels in the left amygdala showing a main
effect of bodily harm at this reduced threshold. Note that the
presence of bodily harm in the stimuli led to a decrease in
activity relative to trials devoid of bodily harm (cf. Fig. 4). Even
at this reduced threshold, none of the voxels in PCC showed a
main effect of bodily harm.
Task by presence of bodily harm interaction
There was no brain region showing an interaction of task and
presence of bodily harm at a threshold of P b 0.001. Only the
middle temporal gyrus (56/48/2, BA 22) showed such an
interaction at a more lenient threshold of P b 0.01.
Brain activity covarying with response time
The activity in right DLPFC (inferior frontal gyrus [IFG], BA
9) covaried with the response time regressor, that is, this region
showed a large BOLD response during trials in which subjects
needed more time to respond, and a smaller BOLD response during
trials in which subjects responded faster. BOLD responses in this
brain region were not modulated by the task or the presence of
Table 2
Anatomical locations and coordinates of activations
Region Left/Right BA Peak MNI coordinates
xyz
Moral Decision N Semantic Decision
Middle Temporal Gyrus, temporal pole R 21 55 7 24
L 54 5 26
Medial Frontal Gyrus, VMPFC L 10/11 65414
R4558
Posterior Cingulate Cortex R 31 6 50 26
Medial Frontal Gyrus, VMPFC R 9 3 58 12
Posterior Superior Temporal Sulcus L 39 56 62 18
R5860 22
Semantic Decision b Moral Decision
Middle Frontal Gyrus, DLPFC L 46 42 40 18
Supramarginal Gyrus L 40 42 42 36
Insula L 13 41 9 20
Bodily Harm b No Bodily Harm
Middle Temporal Gyrus, temporal pole R 21 56 14 24
L* 56 10 24
Amygdala L** 25 4 24
Reaction Time
Inferior Frontal Gyrus, DLPFC R* 9 44 1 32
P b 0.001 (mixed effects analysis, uncorrected).
* P b 0.005 (mixed effects analysis, uncorrected).
** P b 0.05 (mixed effects analysis, uncorrected, masked with anatomically defined ROI); BA = Brodmann area; VMPFC = ventromedial prefrontal cortex;
DLPFC = dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
H.R. Heekeren et al. / NeuroImage 24 (2005) 887–897 891
bodily harm (one-way ANOVA, F = 0.151, P = 0.928) (see Table 2
and Fig. 5).
Discussion
The goal of the present study was to investigate how direct
bodily harm or violence in linguistic stimuli modulates the
behavioral and neural correlates of moral and semantic decision-
making. We found that a network of brain regions including
VMPFC, PSTS, PCC, and the temporal poles was activated more
during moral decision-making than during semantic decision-
making. The main positive result of the study is an influence of the
presence of bodily harm on the anterior temporal poles: trials
containing bodily harm elicited smaller BOLD responses than trials
devoid of bodily harm. This effect was not specific to moral
Fig. 2. Brain regions showing a main effect of task (moral decision-making vs. semantic decision-making). (A) Results of group analysis (N = 11) superimposed
on average T1. Orange-red regions responded more during moral than during semantic decision-making, blue regions showed the reverse pattern (semantic N
moral, [(h) Middle Frontal Gyrus, DLPFC (i) insula]). (B) BOLD signal change during the four sentence conditions in those regions showing larger responses to
moral decisions than to semantic decisions (MDnv, moral decision-making devoid of bodily harm/violence; MDv, moral decision-making containing bodily
harm/violence; SDnv, semantic decision-making devoid of bodily harm/violence; SDv, semantic decision-making containing bodily harm/violence).
H.R. Heekeren et al. / NeuroImage 24 (2005) 887–897892
decision-making. The main negative finding of this study is that
activity in the amygdala and the PCC is not modulated by the
presence of bodily harm. It should be noted that the majority of
subjects were male, therefore our results might be restricted to this
gender.
Response times reflected the fact that the scenarios used in this
study were unambiguous (mean response times ranging from 1907
ms (MDv) to 2277 ms (SDnv)). In Greene et al.’s (2001) study, in
which complex dilemmatic scenarios were used, mean response
times were between 4600 and 6800 ms.
Subjects responded faster during trials containing bodily harm.
Because difficulty ratings showed no difference between con-
ditions, this effect of bodily harm on response time is unlikely to be
due to task difficulty and rather indicates a processing advantage
for negative/violence-related stimuli. This finding is in line with
previous studies reporting that humans detect threatening faces
Fig. 3. Brain regions showing a main effect of bodily harm (sentences devoid of bodily harm vs. sentences containing bodily harm). (A) Results of group
analysis (N = 11) superimposed on average T1, shown with Z N 2.6, corresponding to P b 0.005. (B) BOLD signal change during the four sentence conditions
in those regions showing decreased activity during trials containing bodily harm relative to trials devoid of bodily harm (MDnv, moral decision-making devoid
of bodily harm/violence; MDv, moral decision-making containing bodily harm/violence; SDnv, semantic decision-making devoid of bodily harm/violence;
SDv, semantic decision-making containing bodily harm/violence).
Fig. 4. Main effect of bodily harm in the amygdala. (A) Results of group analysis (N = 11) superimposed on average T1, shown with Z N 1.7, corresponding to
P b 0.05 (red), masked with an anatomically defined ROI (yellow). (B) BOLD signal change during the four sentence conditions in the 11 voxels in the left
amygdala showing a main effect of bodily harm. Note that the presence of bodily harm in the stimuli led to a decrease in activity relative to trials devoidof
bodily harm (MDnv, moral decision-making devoid of bodily harm/violence; MDv, moral decision-making containing bodily harm/violence; SDnv, semantic
decision-making devoid of bodily harm/violence; SDv, semantic decision-making containing bodily harm/violence).
H.R. Heekeren et al. / NeuroImage 24 (2005) 887–897 893
faster and more accurately than friendly faces (Ohman et al., 2001)
and negative words faster than positive words (Dijksterhuis and
Aarts, 2003). Emotionality and immorality ratings were higher for
sentences containing bodily harm (see Fig. 1), thus indicating that
sentences were processed as expected.
A network of brain regions showed larger BOLD responses
during moral decision-making as compared to semantic decision-
making. This matrix included ventromedial prefrontal (VMPFC)
and temporal brain regions (PSTS, temporal poles) as well as right
PCC. These findings are in line with recent fMRI studies that
found a common neural subst rate of mor al decision-making
processes ranging from simple unambiguous ethical decisions to
complex dilemmatic moral judgments consisting of VMPFC, OFC,
PCC, and PSTS (for review, see Casebeer, 2003; Greene and Haidt,
2002; Moll et al., 2003). Because there was no difference in
difficulty ratings and response times were slightly longer during
semantic as compared to moral decision-making, it is unlikely that
these results are due to differences in task difficulty.
In the left hemisphere, DLPFC, insula, and supramarginal
gyrus showed a larger response during semantic decision-making
as compared to moral decision-making. Although there was no
difference in post hoc difficulty ratings, these differences could
reflect higher semantic processing demands during semantic
decision-making as indicated by the slightly longer response
times during semantic decision-making as compared to moral
decision-making.
To control for response time differences between conditions
that might reflect different processing demands, we used an
additional regressor that was modeled using response time during
each trial as a parametric modulation. The BOLD signal in the right
DLPFC covaried with this response time regressor, that is, this
region showed a larger BOLD response during trials in which
subjects needed more time to respond and a smaller BOLD
response during trials in which subjects responded faster. Activity
in this brain region was not modulated by the task or the presence
of bodily harm. A previous study has highlighted the role of right
DLPFC in response selection (Rowe et al., 2000 ). The use of the
response time regressor ensured that the above-discussed specific
activations during moral and semantic decision-making were not
due to differences in response time between the conditions.
The only regions showing a robust main effect of bodily harm
were the bilateral temporal poles. These brain regions showed
significantly less activity in the presence of bodily harm as
compared to trials devoid of bodily harm. In the left amygdala, 11
voxels showed a signal decrease in response to bodily harm in the
linguistic stimuli, which were dsignificantT only at a lenient
threshold (P b 0.05). The PCC did not show a main effect of
bodily harm. Notably, there was no brain region showing a task by
presence of bodily harm interaction at a threshold of P b 0.001.
Only at a more lenient threshold of P b 0.01 did the right middle
temporal gyrus show such an interaction.
It is well established that the amygdala is responsive to threat-
related visual sti muli (Calder et al., 2001; LeDoux, 1996).
However, it is still controversial whether the amygdala is also
responsive to linguistic threat-related stimuli such as sentences
containing bodily harm. Examination of patients indicated a
specific role of the left amygdala in the perception of aversive
words (Anderson and Phelps, 2001). Some recent neuroimaging
studies reported increased amygdala responses during processing
of linguistic stimuli with negative valence (Hamann and Mao,
2002; Isenberg et al., 1999; Strange et al., 2000; Tabert et al.,
2001), while other studies have not reported that the amygdala was
more responsive to linguistic stimuli with negative valence than to
neutral ones (Beauregard et al., 1997; Luo et al., 2004; Maddock
and Buonocore, 1997; Whalen et al., 1998). These divergent
findings with respect to amygdala involvement could be due to
characteristics of the tasks employed. For example, in the present
study, bodily harm/threat cues were task irrelevant and may
therefore not have elicited an increase in amygdala activity.
How might the decreased BOLD response in the amygdala
during trials containing bodily harm be explained? Subjects rated
sentences containing bodily harm as being more emotional and
responded about 250 ms faster during trials containing bodily
harm. This concurs with previous reports that humans detect
threatening faces faster and more accurately than friendly faces
(Ohman et al., 2001) and negative words faster than positive words
(Dijksterhuis and Aarts, 2003). Shorter response times indicate that
processing a potentially threatening stimulus takes less time than
processing a neutral stimulus (i.e., a stimulus devoid of bodily
harm). Because fMRI integrates neural activity over seconds, the
BOLD response to a threatening stimulus would thus be reduced
relative to a neutral one.
It has been suggested that some amount of attention has to be
oriented to the emotional dimension of a stimulus to result in
amygdala activation during processing of emotional material such
as violence/threat cues (Pessoa et al., 2002, but see Vuilleumier and
Schwartz, 2001). Phan et al. (2004) suggested that the amygdala is
specifically involved in affective judgments about emotional value
Fig. 5. Region in right DLPFC in which BOLD activity covaried with the response time regressor. (A) Results of group analysis (N = 11) superimposed on
average T1, shown with Z N 2.6, corresponding to P b 0.005. (B) BOLD signal change in right DLPFC during the four conditions, illustrating that BOLD
responses in this brain region were not modulated by the task or the presence of bodily harm (one-way ANOVA, F = 0.151, P = 0.928) (MDnv, moral decision-
making devoid of bodily harm/violence; MDv, moral decision-making containing bodily harm/violence; SDnv, semantic decision-making devoid of bodily
harm/violence; SDv, semantic decision-making containing bodily harm/violence).
H.R. Heekeren et al. / NeuroImage 24 (2005) 887–897894
(e.g., evaluating aversive or appetitive information) rather than
judgments based on life experience (e.g., evaluating signals elicited
by recall of autobiographical emotional life events). This inter-
pretation concurs with the view that the amygdala is involved in
the general evaluation of sensory information conveying salient
information (Zald, 2003). In showing that there was no greater
activation of the amygdala when sentences containing bodily harm
were processed as compared to sentences devoid of bodily harm,
the results of the present study support these concepts of amygdala
function.
There has been a similar divergence in findings with respect to
the role of the PCC in processing linguistic stimuli. Some previous
neuroimaging studies reported that the PCC was activated during
the evaluation of threat-related and unpleasant words relative to
neutral words (Maddock and Buonocore, 1997; Maddock et al.,
2003), during monitor ing words with emotional connotations
compared to monitoring tone sequences (Crosson et al., 2002),
and during word generation to categories with positive or negative
vs. neutral emotional connotation (Cato et al., 2004). Other studies,
however, could not show that the PCC is more responsive to
linguistic stimuli with negative valence compared to neutral ones
(Elliott et al., 2000; Hamann and Mao, 2002; Isenberg et al., 1999;
Luo et al., 2004; Tabert et al., 2001). Again, one possible
explanation for these diverging results includes differences in the
tasks employed. Some of the studies used implicit tasks, such as
passive viewing of emotional words or counting the number of
negative and neutral words, while in other studies subjects had to
evaluate a group of highly unpleasant or neutral words in relation
to their own personal experience. It has been suggested that the
PCC is involved in processing the emotional significance of
sensory stimuli (Cato et al., 2004; Maddock, 1999). Similar to the
amygdala, some amount of attention might have to be oriented to
the emotional dimension of the stimulus to specifically involve the
PCC.
In a subset of the voxels in the temporal poles that showed a
main effect of task (greater response during moral relative to
semantic decision-making, see above), we found a significant
decrease in activity relative to trials devoid of bodily harm (main
effect of bodily harm). Note that the activity in this region did not
covary with response time in general, only the BOLD signal in
right DLPFC covaried with response time. Furthermore, difficulty
ratings did not differ between conditions. It is thus unlikely that the
observed smaller response in the anterior temporal poles in the
presence of bodily harm is due to differences in task difficulty or
processing demand. As discussed above, the more likely explan-
ation for this finding is that sentences containing threat-related
words (bodily harm/violence) are processed faster than sentences
devoid of such cues as indicated by shorter response times. The
BOLD response, which integrates neural activity over seconds, to
sentences containing threat-related cues is therefore reduced
relative to neutral sentences. In other words, the decrease in
BOLD activity in the temporal poles could rather be a correlate of a
processing advantage for linguistic stimuli containing violence/
threat cues.
The temporal poles have been implicated in episodic memory
retrieval such as autobiographical memory retrieval (Fink et al.,
1996) and recollection of familiar faces and scenes (Nakamura et
al., 2000). Making moral decisions about actions of other agents
with respect to a set of virtues held to be obligatory by one’s
culture requires recall of previous personal experiences that
might be processed less deeply (as reflected in faster response
times, see above) in the presence of threat cues, such as bodily
harm/violence.
Bilateral temporal poles were found to be activated by Moll et
al. (2002a), but not in Greene et al.’s (2001) study. The task used in
the present study as well as the task used in our previous study
(Heekeren et al., 2003) and Moll’s task required subjects to morally
judge the actions of other agents, that is, participants had to
attribute intentions to others. This is also a feature of dtheory of
mindT (TOM) tasks that consistently activate the temporal poles
(Fletcher et al., 1995; Gallagher and Frith, 2003; Gallagher et al.,
2000; Vogeley et al., 2001, see Frith and Frith, 2003 for a review).
Frith and Frith (2003) suggested that the anterior temporal poles
are concerned with generating a wider semantic and emotional
context for the material currently being processed on the basis of
past experience, thus aiding the interpretation of stories and
pictures whether or not they involve mentalizing. The present study
shows that sentences containing bodily harm/threat cues elicit
decreased activity in the temporal poles during semantic and moral
decision-making relative to sentences devoid of bodily harm/
violence. In other words, bodily harm in linguistic stimuli may lead
to reduced processing depth in the temporal poles and thereby
restrict the generation of the semantic and emotional context for the
material currently being processed.
In conclusion, during moral and semantic decision-making, the
presence of bodily harm resulted in faster response times and
smaller increases in activity in the temporal poles, indicating a
processing advantage and reduced processing depth for violence-
related linguistic stimuli. Neither the amygdala nor the posterior
cingulate cortex showed an increase in activity in response to
stimuli containing bodily harm. Weaker activity in the temporal
poles might be a correlate of limited generation of the semantic and
emotional context during the evaluation of actions of another agent
related to bodily harm that is made with respect to the norms and
values guiding our behavior in a community.
Acknowledgments
This study was s upported by grants from DFG (Clinical
Research Group EI-207/2-3, Emmy-Noether-Programm He 3347/
1-1), BMBF (Berlin NeuroImaging Center: BNIC), Gruter Institute
for Law and Behavioral Research, and Internati onal Leibniz
Program. Conflicts of interest: There were no conflicts of
financial, consultant, institutional interest or other relationships
that might lead to bias or a conflict of interest.
References
Anderson, A.K., Phelps, E.A., 2001. Lesions of the human amygdala impair
enhanced perception of emotionally salient events. Nature 411, 305 309.
Anderson, S.W., Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Tranel, D., Damasio, A.R.,
1999. Impairment of social and moral behavior related to early damage
in human prefrontal cortex. Nat. Neurosci. 2, 1032 1037.
Beauregard, M., Chertkow, H., Bub, D., Murtha, S., Dixon, R., Evans, A.,
1997. The neural substrate for concrete, abstract, and emotional word
lexica: a positron emission tomography study. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 9,
441 461.
Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Damasio, A.R., 2000. Emotion, decision making
and the orbitofrontal cortex. Cereb. Cortex 10, 295 307.
Calder, A.J., Lawrence, A.D., Young, A.W., 2001. Neuropsychology of fear
and loathing. Nat. Rev., Neurosci. 2, 352 363.
H.R. Heekeren et al. / NeuroImage 24 (2005) 887–897 895
Casebeer, W.D., 2003. Moral cognition and its neural constituents. Nat.
Rev., Neurosci. 4, 840 846.
Cato, M.A., Crosson, B., Gokcay, D., Soltysik, D., Wierenga, C., Gopinath,
K., Himes, N., Belanger, H., Bauer, R.M., Fischler, I.S., Gonzalez-
Rothi, L., Briggs, R.W., 2004. Processing words with emotional
connotation: an fMRI study of time course and laterality in rostral
frontal and retrosplenial cortices. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 16 (2), 167 177.
Cox, R.W., 1996. AFNI: software for analysis and visualization of
functional magnetic resonance neuroimages. Comput. Biomed. Res.
29, 162 173.
Crosson, B., Cato, M.A., Sadek, J.R., Gokcay, D., Bauer, R.M., Fischler,
I.S., Maron, L., Gopinath, K., Auerbach, E.J., Browd, S.R., Briggs,
R.W., 2002. Semantic monitoring of words with emotional connotation
during fMRI: contribution of anterior left frontal corte x. J. Int.
Neuropsychol. Soc. 8, 607 622.
Damasio, A.R., 1996. The somatic marker hypothesis and the possible
functions of the prefrontal cortex. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond., B Biol.
Sci. 351, 1413 1420.
Damasio, H., Grabowski, T., Frank, R., Galaburda, A.M., Damasio, A.R.,
1994. The return of gage, phineas—Clues about the brain from the skull
of a famous patient. Science 264, 1102 1105.
Dijksterhuis, A., Aarts, H., 2003. On wildebeests and humans: the
preferential detection of negative stimuli. Psychol. Sci. 14, 14 18.
Dimitrov, M., Phipps, M., Zahn, T.P., Grafman, J., 1999. A thoroughly
modern gage. Neurocase 5, 345 354.
Elliott, R., Rubinsztein, J.S., Sahakian, B.J., Dolan, R.J., 2000. Selective
attention to emotional stimuli in a verbal go/no-go task: an fMRI study.
NeuroReport 11, 1739 1744.
Fink, G.R., Markowitsch, H.J., Reinkemeier, M., Bruckbauer, T., Kessler,
J., Heiss, W.D., 1996. Cerebral representation of one’s own past:
neural networks involved in autobiographical memory. J. Neurosci.
16, 4275 4282.
Fletcher, P.C., Happe, F., Frith, U., Baker, S.C., Dolan, R.J., Frackowiak,
R.S., Frith, C.D., 1995. Other minds in the brain: a functional imaging
study of btheory of mindQ in story comprehension. Cognition 57,
109 128.
Frith, U., Frith, C.D., 2003. Development and neurophysiology of
mentalizing. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond., B Biol. Sci. 358, 459 473.
Gallagher, H.L., Frith, C.D., 2003. Functional imaging of dtheory of mind.T
Trends Cogn. Sci. 7, 77 83.
Gallagher, H.L., Happe, F., Brunswick, N., Fletcher, P.C., Frith, U., Frith,
C.D., 2000. Reading the mind in cartoons and stories: an fMRI study of
dtheory of mindT in verbal and nonverbal tasks. Neuropsychologia 38,
11 21.
Greene, J., Haidt, J., 2002. How (and where) does moral judgment work?
Trends Cogn. Sci. 6, 517 523.
Greene, J.D., Sommerville, R.B., Nystrom, L.E., Darley, J.M., Cohen, J.D.,
2001. An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral
judgment. Science 293, 2105 2108.
Haidt, J., 2001. The emotional dog and its rational tail: a social intuitionist
approach to moral judgment. Psychol. Rev. 108, 814 834.
Haidt, J., 2003. The moral emotions. In: Davidson, R.J., Scherer, K.R.,
Goldsmith, H.H. (Eds.), Handbook of Affective Sciences. Oxford Univ.
Press, Oxford, pp. 852 870.
Hamann, S., Mao, H., 2002. Positive and negative emotional verbal stimuli
elicit activity in the left amygdala. NeuroReport 13, 15 19.
Harlow, J.M., 1848. Passage of an iron rod through the head. Boston Med.
Surg. J. 39, 389 393.
Heeke ren, H.R., Wartenburger, I., Schmidt, H. , Schwintowski, H.P.,
Villringer, A., 2003. An fMRI study of simple ethical decision-making.
NeuroReport 14, 1215 1219.
Isenberg, N., Silbersweig, D., Engelien, A., Emmerich, S., Malavade, K.,
Beattie, B., Leon, A.C., Stern, E., 1999. Linguistic threat activates the
human amygdala. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 96, 10456 10459.
Jenkinson, M., Bannister, P., Brady, M., Smith, S., 2002. Improved
optimization for the robust and accurate linear registration and motion
correction of brain images. NeuroImage 17, 825 841.
Kohlberg, L., 1969. Stage and sequence: the cognitive-developmental
approach to socialization. In: Goslin, D.A. (Ed.), Handbook of Social-
ization Theory and Research. Ran McNally, Chicago, pp. 347 480.
Lancaster, J.L., Woldorff, M.G., Parsons, L.M., Liotti, M., Freitas, E.S.,
Rainey, L., Kochunov, P.V., Nickerson, D., Mikiten, S.A., Fox, P.T.,
2000. Automated Talairach atlas labels for functional brain mapping.
Hum. Brain Mapp. 10, 120 131.
LeDoux, J., 1996. The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of
Emotional Life. Simon and Schuster, New York.
Luo, Q., Peng, D.L., Jin, Z., Xu, D., Xiao, L.H., Ding, G.S., 2004.
Emotional valence of words modulates the subl iminal repetition
priming effect in the left fusiform gyrus: an event-related fMRI study.
NeuroImage 21, 414 421.
Maddock, R.J., 1999. The retrosplenial cortex and emotion: new insights
from functional neuroimaging of the human brain. Trends Neurosci. 22,
310 316.
Maddock, R.J., Buonocore, M.H., 1997. Activation of left posterior
cingulate gyrus by the auditory presentation of threat-related words:
an fMRI study. Psychiatry Res. 75, 1 14.
Maddock, R.J., Garrett, A.S., Buonocore, M.H., 2003. Posterior cingulate
cortex activation by emotional words: fMRI evidence from a valence
decision task. Hum. Brain Mapp. 18, 30 41.
Moll, J., Eslinger, P.J., Oliveira-Souza, R., 2001. Frontopolar and anterior
temporal cortex activation in a moral judgment task: preliminary
functional MRI results in normal subjects. Arq. Neuro-Psiquiatr. 59,
657 664.
Moll, J., Oliveira-Souza, R., Bramati, I.E., Grafman, J., 2002a. Functional
networks in emotional moral and nonmoral social judgments. Neuro-
Image 16, 696 703.
Moll, J., Oliveira-Souza, R., Eslinger, P.J., Bramati, I.E., Mourao-Miranda,
J., Andreiuolo, P.A., Pessoa, L., 2002b. The neural correlates of moral
sensitivity: a functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation of
basic and moral emotions. J. Neurosci. 22, 2730 2736.
Moll, J., Oliveira-Souza, R., Eslinger, P.J., 2003. Morals and the human
brain: a working model. NeuroReport 14, 299 305.
Nakamura, K., Kawashima, R., Sato, N., Nakamura, A., Sugiura, M., Kato,
T., Hatano, K., Ito, K., Fukuda, H., Schormann, T., Zilles, K., 2000.
Functional delineation of the human occipito-temporal areas related to
face and scene processing. A PET study. Brain 123, 1903 1912.
Ohman, A., Lundqvist, D., Esteves, F., 2001. The face in the crowd
revisited: a threat advantage with schematic stimuli. J. Pers. Soc.
Psychol. 80, 381 396.
Pessoa, L., McKenna, M., Gutierrez, E., Ungerleider, L.G., 2002. Neural
processing of emotional faces requires attention. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.
U. S. A. 99, 1145811463.
Phan, K.L., Taylor, S.F., Welsh, R.C., Ho, S.H., Britton, J.C., Liberzon, I.,
2004. Neural correlates of individual ratings of emotional salience: a
trial-related fMRI study. NeuroImage 21, 768 780.
Piaget, J., 1965. The Moral Judgment of the Child. Free Press, New
York.
Pizarro, D., 2000. Nothing more than feelings? The role of emotions in
moral judgment. J. Theory Soc. Behav. 30 (4), 355 375.
Rowe, J.B., Toni, I., Josephs, O., Frackowiak, R.S., Passingham, R.E.,
2000. The prefrontal cortex: response selection or maintenance within
working memory? Science 288, 1656 1660.
Smith, S.M., 2002. Fast robust automated brain extraction. Hum. Brain
Mapp. 17, 143 155.
Strange, B.A., Henson, R.N., Friston, K.J., Dolan, R.J., 2000. Brain
mechanisms for detecting perceptual, semantic, and emotional devi-
ance. NeuroImage 12, 425 433.
Tabert, M.H., Borod, J.C., Tang, C.Y., Lange, G., Wei, T.C., Johnson,
R., Nusbaum, A.O., Buchsbaum, M.S., 2001. Differential amygdala
activation during emotional decision and recognition memory tasks
using unpleasant words: an fMRI study. Neuropsychologia 39,
556 573.
Vogeley, K., Bussfeld, P., Newen, A., Herrmann, S., Happe, F., Falkai, P.,
Maier, W., Shah, N.J., Fink, G.R., Zilles, K., 2001. Mind reading:
H.R. Heekeren et al. / NeuroImage 24 (2005) 887–897896
neural mechanisms of theory of mind and self-perspective. NeuroImage
14, 170 181.
Vuilleumier, P., Schwartz, S., 2001. Emotional facial expressions capture
attention. Neurology 56, 153 158.
Whalen, P.J., Bush, G., McNally, R.J., Wilhelm, S., McInerney,
S.C., Jenike, M.A., Rauch, S.L., 1998. The emotional counting
Stroop paradigm: a functional magnetic resonance imaging probe
of the anterior cingulate affective division. Biol. Psychiatry 44,
1219 1228.
Woolrich, M.W., Ripley, B.D., Brady, M., Smith, S.M., 2001. Temporal
autocorrelation in univariate linear modeling of FMRI data. Neuro-
Image 14, 1370 1386.
Zald, D.H., 2003. The human amygdala and the emotional evaluation of
sensory stimuli. Brain Res. Brain Res. Rev. 41, 88 123.
H.R. Heekeren et al. / NeuroImage 24 (2005) 887–897 897
    • "Region of interest was set as the bilateral medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC, BA 10). This region was selected because it has been specifically identified as important for both hedonic (Jacobsen et al., 2006; Lebreton, Jorge, Michel, Thirion, & Pessiglione, 2009) and understanding assessment (Heekeren et al., 2005). More important, MPFC is noted as playing a key role for the entire proposed sequence within the above brain models. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We investigate neural and behavioral aspects of the interrelation between 'liking' and 'understanding' when both appraisals are made within one judgment task. Our goal was to explore questions regarding how these appraisals combine, and specifically whether there is an order-effect when both are employed in sequence. To this end, we tested a hypothesis derived from new models in neuroaesthetics, and concerning processing of art, which suggest that perception may involve a natural sequence from first processing for hedonic quality (i.e., liking) followed by processing for understanding. Thus, due to the initial liking assessment's capacity to prime deepened cognitive involvement, a Liking-Understanding order may show key differences in final assessments or brain activation when compared to an Understanding-Liking sequence. Thirty-two participants evaluated a range of paintings, balanced for visual appeal and understandability, in a two-part task in which half evaluated for understanding followed by liking and the other half had question order reversed. Brain activity was recorded via functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS). Results showed no assessment interrelation or order effect in artwork evaluations. However, participants who began with evaluation for liking, and who came to incongruent combinations (i.e., " I like, but I don't understand " or " I don't like, but I understand "), showed significantly higher activation in left medial prefrontal cortex. This area is functionally associated with attention and integration of hedonic/informational elements. Findings provide tentative support for a liking-driven order-effect, as well as for physiological connection between appraisals, which may not appear in behavioral evidence, and suggest need for further consideration of this topic in appraisal research.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2016
    • "In relation to cerebral activation when faced with a violent stimuli, different results have been found. Some studies assert a deactivation of the anterior temporal lobes of the participants (Heekeren et al., 2005), while others register a higher activation of the supplementary motor area, the STS and the ACC, along with the dorsomedial-PFC, also activated by dishonest and annoying stimuli. Dishonest stimuli appear to be linked to the dorsolateral-PFC and PCC (Parkinson et al., 2011) and with the activation of the ACC, the supplementary motor area, dorsolateral- PFC, dorsomedial-PFC and ventrolateral-PFC (Greene et al., 2009). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: During the last decade there has been a substantial increase in the number of studies that discuss brain processes and moral reasoning in different fields of research. The aim of this review is to establish the current state of the art of the neurobiological bases of moral reasoning in healthy humans, based on the publications from the last decade. The results show that the neurobiological bases of moral reasoning are closely associated to several anatomical regions serving a broad variety of functions. Regions that can be highlighted include the prefrontal cortex (PFC), particularly, the dorsolateral-PFC, medial-PFC, ventromedial- PFC and orbitofrontal cortex; the anterior and posterior parts of the cingulate cortex; parts of the temporal cortex including the temporoparietal junction and the superior temporal sulcus; the insular lobe; the precuneus and subcortical structures such as the amygdala. Those outcomes underline the importance of brain anatomy and functionality for correct moral reasoning.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2016 · Journal of Business Ethics
    • "Yet, for localizing focal neural processing, fMRI studies are undoubtedly superior to the aforementioned studies with brain-damaged patients. In aggregate, fMRI studies seem to point to the activation of the amygdala and vmPFC—in particular the left vmPFC—in processing information about moral dilemmas that encompass physical harm or violence (Greene 2009a; Heekeren et al. 2005; Luo et al. 2006). These two brain areas are likely to control socially inappropriate behavior and rapidly assess reward or punishment values (Greene and Haidt 2002). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Most theory in business ethics is still steeped in rationalist and moral-realist assumptions. However, some seminal neuroscientific studies point to the primacy of moral emotions and intuition in shaping moral judgment. In line with previous interpretations, I suggest that a dual-system explanation of emotional-intuitive automaticity (reflexion) and deliberative reasoning (reflection) is the most appropriate view. However, my interpretation of the evidence also contradicts Greene’s conclusion that nonconsequentialist decision making is primarily sentimentalist or affective at its core, while utilitarianism is largely rational-deliberative. Instead, I propose that current research on the human brain, in conjunction with converging experimental evidence, hints at moral subjectivism and its evolutionary basis as the most persuasive explanation of morality. These anti-realist conjectures have far-reaching implications for a wide range of topics in business ethics, as illustrated with the specific case of corporate social responsibility as a potentially tribal conception of the good.
    Full-text · Article · Mar 2016
Show more