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Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements

Koenigs, Michael and Young, Liane and Adolphs, Ralph and Tranel, Daniel and Cushman, Fiery and Hauser, Marc and Damasio, Antonio (2007) Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements. Nature, 446 (7138). pp. 908-911. ISSN 0028-0836. PMCID PMC2244801; PMC2922719.

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The psychological and neurobiological processes underlying moral judgement have been the focus of many recent empirical studies. Of central interest is whether emotions play a causal role in moral judgement, and, in parallel, how emotion-related areas of the brain contribute to moral judgement. Here we show that six patients with focal bilateral damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC), a brain region necessary for the normal generation of emotions and, in particular, social emotions, produce an abnormally 'utilitarian' pattern of judgements on moral dilemmas that pit compelling considerations of aggregate welfare against highly emotionally aversive behaviours (for example, having to sacrifice one person's life to save a number of other lives). In contrast, the VMPC patients' judgements were normal in other classes of moral dilemmas. These findings indicate that, for a selective set of moral dilemmas, the VMPC is critical for normal judgements of right and wrong. The findings support a necessary role for emotion in the generation of those judgements.

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Adolphs, Ralph0000-0002-8053-9692
Additional Information:© 2007 Macmillan Publishers Limited. Received 3 November 2006; accepted 17 February 2007; published online 21 March 2007. We thank H. Damasio for making available neuroanatomical analyses of lesion patients and for preparing Fig. 1. We thank all participants for their participation in the experiments and R. Saxe for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation.
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Gordon and Betty Moore FoundationUNSPECIFIED
John Simon Guggenheim FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:7138
PubMed Central ID:PMC2244801; PMC2922719
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20150318-085136031
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Official Citation:Koenigs, M., Young, L., Adolphs, R., Tranel, D., Cushman, F., Hauser, M., & Damasio, A. (2007). Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements. [10.1038/nature05631]. Nature, 446(7138), 908-911.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:55879
Deposited By: Jason Perez
Deposited On:18 Mar 2015 17:03
Last Modified:23 Jan 2020 20:46

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