Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements

Nature 446 (7138):908-911 (2007)
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Abstract
The psychological and neurobiological processes underlying moral judgement have been the focus of many recent empirical studies1–11. 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 emotions12–14, produce an abnor- mally ‘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)7,8. 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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References found in this work BETA
The Role of Conscious Reasoning and Intuition in Moral Judgment.Cushman, Fiery; Young, Liane & Hauser, Marc
A Dissociation Between Moral Judgments and Justifications.Hauser, Marc; Cushman, Fiery; Young, Liane; Kang-Xing Jin, R. & Mikhail, John

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Citations of this work BETA
Experimental Philosophy.Knobe, Joshua; Buckwalter, Wesley; Nichols, Shaun; Robbins, Philip; Sarkissian, Hagop & Sommers, Tamler
Cognitive Load Selectively Interferes with Utilitarian Moral Judgment.Greene, Joshua D.; Morelli, Sylvia A.; Lowenberg, Kelly; Nystrom, Leigh E. & Cohen, Jonathan D.
Pushing Moral Buttons: The Interaction Between Personal Force and Intention in Moral Judgment.Greene, Joshua D.; Cushman, Fiery A.; Stewart, Lisa E.; Lowenberg, Kelly; Nystrom, Leigh E. & Cohen, Jonathan D.

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