How people judge something to be morally right or wrong is a fundamental question of both the sciences and the humanities. Here we aim to identify the neural processes that underlie the specific conclusion that something is morally wrong. To do this, we introduce a novel distinction between "moral deliberation," or the weighing of moral considerations, and the formation of a "moral verdict," or the commitment to one moral conclusion. We predict and identify hemodynamic activity in the bilateral anterior insula and basal ganglia that correlates with committing to the moral verdict "this is morally wrong" as opposed to "this is morally not-wrong," a finding that is consistent with research from economic decision-making. Using comparisons of deliberation-locked vs. verdict-locked analyses, we also demonstrate that hemodynamic activity in high-level cortical regions previously implicated in morality-including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and temporoparietal junction-correlates primarily with moral deliberation as opposed to moral verdicts. These findings provide new insights into what types of processes comprise the enterprise of moral judgment, and in doing so point to a framework for resolving why some clinical patients, including psychopaths, may have intact moral judgment but impaired moral behavior.
- Anterior insula
- Ventromedial prefrontal cortex
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Behavioral Neuroscience
- Social Psychology