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Differential neural circuitry and self-interest in real vs hypothetical moral decisions

FeldmanHall, Oriel and Dalgleish, Tim and Thompson, Russell and Evans, Davy and Schweizer, Susanne and Mobbs, Dean (2012) Differential neural circuitry and self-interest in real vs hypothetical moral decisions. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 7 (7). pp. 743-751. ISSN 1749-5016. PMCID PMC3475363. doi:10.1093/scan/nss069.

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Classic social psychology studies demonstrate that people can behave in ways that contradict their intentions—especially within the moral domain. We measured brain activity while subjects decided between financial self-benefit (earning money) and preventing physical harm (applying an electric shock) to a confederate under both real and hypothetical conditions. We found a shared neural network associated with empathic concern for both types of decisions. However, hypothetical and real moral decisions also recruited distinct neural circuitry: hypothetical moral decisions mapped closely onto the imagination network, while real moral decisions elicited activity in the bilateral amygdala and anterior cingulate—areas essential for social and affective processes. Moreover, during real moral decision-making, distinct regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) determined whether subjects make selfish or pro-social moral choices. Together, these results reveal not only differential neural mechanisms for real and hypothetical moral decisions but also that the nature of real moral decisions can be predicted by dissociable networks within the PFC.

Item Type:Article
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Mobbs, Dean0000-0003-1175-3772
Additional Information:© 2012 The Author. Published by Oxford University Press. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in anymedium, provided the originalwork is properly cited. Received 18 April 2012; Accepted 8 June 2012. Advance Access publication 18 June 2012. This research was supported by the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Medical Research Council (UK)UNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:real moral decision-making, fMRI, amygdala, TPJ, ACC
Issue or Number:7
PubMed Central ID:PMC3475363
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180306-065911419
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Official Citation:Oriel FeldmanHall, Tim Dalgleish, Russell Thompson, Davy Evans, Susanne Schweizer, Dean Mobbs; Differential neural circuitry and self-interest in real vs hypothetical moral decisions, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 7, Issue 7, 1 October 2012, Pages 743–751,
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:85117
Deposited By: Ruth Sustaita
Deposited On:06 Mar 2018 18:17
Last Modified:15 Nov 2021 20:25

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