Emotional and Utilitarian Appraisals of Moral Dilemmas Are Encoded in Separate Areas and Integrated in Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex
Moral judgment often requires making difficult tradeoffs (e.g., is it appropriate to torture to save the lives of innocents at risk?). Previous research suggests that both emotional appraisals and more deliberative utilitarian appraisals influence such judgments and that these appraisals often conflict. However, it is unclear how these different types of appraisals are represented in the brain, or how they are integrated into an overall moral judgment. We addressed these questions using an fMRI paradigm in which human subjects provide separate emotional and utilitarian appraisals for different potential actions, and then make difficult moral judgments constructed from combinations of these actions. We found that anterior cingulate, insula, and superior temporal gyrus correlated with emotional appraisals, whereas temporoparietal junction and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex correlated with utilitarian appraisals. Overall moral value judgments were represented in an anterior portion of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Critically, the pattern of responses and functional interactions between these three sets of regions are consistent with a model in which emotional and utilitarian appraisals are computed independently and in parallel, and passed to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex where they are integrated into an overall moral value judgment.
© 2015 the authors. Beginning six months after publication the Work will be made freely available to the public on SfN's website to copy, distribute, or display under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Received Aug. 14, 2014; revised Aug. 5, 2015; accepted Aug. 9, 2015. This work was supported by an National Institute of Mental Health Conte Center Grant. Author contributions: C.A.H., L.M.-K., J.W., and A.R. designed research; C.A.H. and L.M.-K. performed research; C.A.H. contributed unpublished reagents/analytic tools; C.A.H. and L.M.-K. analyzed data; C.A.H., L.M.-K., J.W., and A.R. wrote the paper. The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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