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

FeldmanHall O, Dalgleish T, Thompson R, Evans D, Schweizer S, Mobbs D - Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci (2012)

Bottom Line: We found a shared neural network associated with empathic concern for both types of decisions.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.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, 15 Chaucer Road, Cambridge CB2 7EF, UK. Oriel.FeldmanHall@mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk

ABSTRACT
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.

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Real and Imagine Moral networks:(A) Imagine Moral Network: Comparing the Imagine PvG Decideevent > Real PvG Decide event reveals significant activation inthe PCC, mPFC, posterior parietal cortex, superior frontal sulcus and hippocampus.A priori ROIs (indicated by circles and corrected atP < 0.05 FWE) and parameter estimates revealthat hypothetical moral decisions map closely onto the brain’s constructionsystem. (B). Real Moral Network: Contrasting the Decide event of theReal PvG > Imagine PvG activates bilateral TPJ and amygdala. Apriori ROIs and parameter estimates for these regions were found to be moresignificant during the Real decision than during the Imagine decision.(C). Shared Moral Network: A conjunction analysis of Real andImagine moral decisions reveals robust activation in the empathy for pain matrix,and parameter estimates of the middle cingulate and bilateral insula illustratecomparable activations for both conditions. All coordinates in MNI space andresults portrayed on sections of the mean structural scan atP < 0.005 uncorrected. Both whole brain analysis(P < 0.001 uncorrected) and a priori regions of interest (FWEP < 0.05) were used for all contrasts. A complete list ofactivated areas and ROIs can be found in Tables2–4.
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nss069-F2: Real and Imagine Moral networks:(A) Imagine Moral Network: Comparing the Imagine PvG Decideevent > Real PvG Decide event reveals significant activation inthe PCC, mPFC, posterior parietal cortex, superior frontal sulcus and hippocampus.A priori ROIs (indicated by circles and corrected atP < 0.05 FWE) and parameter estimates revealthat hypothetical moral decisions map closely onto the brain’s constructionsystem. (B). Real Moral Network: Contrasting the Decide event of theReal PvG > Imagine PvG activates bilateral TPJ and amygdala. Apriori ROIs and parameter estimates for these regions were found to be moresignificant during the Real decision than during the Imagine decision.(C). Shared Moral Network: A conjunction analysis of Real andImagine moral decisions reveals robust activation in the empathy for pain matrix,and parameter estimates of the middle cingulate and bilateral insula illustratecomparable activations for both conditions. All coordinates in MNI space andresults portrayed on sections of the mean structural scan atP < 0.005 uncorrected. Both whole brain analysis(P < 0.001 uncorrected) and a priori regions of interest (FWEP < 0.05) were used for all contrasts. A complete list ofactivated areas and ROIs can be found in Tables2–4.

Mentions: To specifically elucidate the differences between real and hypothetical moraldecisions, we compared the Decide event (Figure1B) for the Imagine and Real PvG tasks, highlighting the brain regions distinctto each condition. Significant activation in the PCC, bilateral hippocampus andposterior parietal lobe—all regions essential in imagination and prospection(Schacter et al., 2007)—weregreater for hypothetical moral decisions (Figure2A). Applying a priori ROIs derived from research on the brain’sconstruction system (Hassabis and Maguire,2009) revealed a remarkably shared neural system with hypothetical moraldecisions (Table 2). Additional a prioriROIs drawn from the moral literature—mPFC and dlPFC (Greene et al., 2001)—also showed greater activation forimagined moral choices. Parameter estimates of the beta values for these ROIs confirmedthat these regions were more sensitive to hypothetical moral decisions, relative to realmoral decisions (Figure 2A). In contrast,activation in the bilateral ventral TPJ [BA 37], bilateral amygdala, putamen and ACCwere more active for real moral decisions (Figure2B; Table 3). As with theprevious contrast, we first applied a priori ROIs and then examined the parameterestimates to ensure that the amygdala and TPJ were significantly more active during realmoral decisions. These regions are well documented within the social neuroscienceliterature and have been closely associated with processing stimuli with emotional andsocial significance (Phelps, 2006). Fig. 2


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

FeldmanHall O, Dalgleish T, Thompson R, Evans D, Schweizer S, Mobbs D - Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci (2012)

Real and Imagine Moral networks:(A) Imagine Moral Network: Comparing the Imagine PvG Decideevent > Real PvG Decide event reveals significant activation inthe PCC, mPFC, posterior parietal cortex, superior frontal sulcus and hippocampus.A priori ROIs (indicated by circles and corrected atP < 0.05 FWE) and parameter estimates revealthat hypothetical moral decisions map closely onto the brain’s constructionsystem. (B). Real Moral Network: Contrasting the Decide event of theReal PvG > Imagine PvG activates bilateral TPJ and amygdala. Apriori ROIs and parameter estimates for these regions were found to be moresignificant during the Real decision than during the Imagine decision.(C). Shared Moral Network: A conjunction analysis of Real andImagine moral decisions reveals robust activation in the empathy for pain matrix,and parameter estimates of the middle cingulate and bilateral insula illustratecomparable activations for both conditions. All coordinates in MNI space andresults portrayed on sections of the mean structural scan atP < 0.005 uncorrected. Both whole brain analysis(P < 0.001 uncorrected) and a priori regions of interest (FWEP < 0.05) were used for all contrasts. A complete list ofactivated areas and ROIs can be found in Tables2–4.
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Related In: Results  -  Collection

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getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3475363&req=5

nss069-F2: Real and Imagine Moral networks:(A) Imagine Moral Network: Comparing the Imagine PvG Decideevent > Real PvG Decide event reveals significant activation inthe PCC, mPFC, posterior parietal cortex, superior frontal sulcus and hippocampus.A priori ROIs (indicated by circles and corrected atP < 0.05 FWE) and parameter estimates revealthat hypothetical moral decisions map closely onto the brain’s constructionsystem. (B). Real Moral Network: Contrasting the Decide event of theReal PvG > Imagine PvG activates bilateral TPJ and amygdala. Apriori ROIs and parameter estimates for these regions were found to be moresignificant during the Real decision than during the Imagine decision.(C). Shared Moral Network: A conjunction analysis of Real andImagine moral decisions reveals robust activation in the empathy for pain matrix,and parameter estimates of the middle cingulate and bilateral insula illustratecomparable activations for both conditions. All coordinates in MNI space andresults portrayed on sections of the mean structural scan atP < 0.005 uncorrected. Both whole brain analysis(P < 0.001 uncorrected) and a priori regions of interest (FWEP < 0.05) were used for all contrasts. A complete list ofactivated areas and ROIs can be found in Tables2–4.
Mentions: To specifically elucidate the differences between real and hypothetical moraldecisions, we compared the Decide event (Figure1B) for the Imagine and Real PvG tasks, highlighting the brain regions distinctto each condition. Significant activation in the PCC, bilateral hippocampus andposterior parietal lobe—all regions essential in imagination and prospection(Schacter et al., 2007)—weregreater for hypothetical moral decisions (Figure2A). Applying a priori ROIs derived from research on the brain’sconstruction system (Hassabis and Maguire,2009) revealed a remarkably shared neural system with hypothetical moraldecisions (Table 2). Additional a prioriROIs drawn from the moral literature—mPFC and dlPFC (Greene et al., 2001)—also showed greater activation forimagined moral choices. Parameter estimates of the beta values for these ROIs confirmedthat these regions were more sensitive to hypothetical moral decisions, relative to realmoral decisions (Figure 2A). In contrast,activation in the bilateral ventral TPJ [BA 37], bilateral amygdala, putamen and ACCwere more active for real moral decisions (Figure2B; Table 3). As with theprevious contrast, we first applied a priori ROIs and then examined the parameterestimates to ensure that the amygdala and TPJ were significantly more active during realmoral decisions. These regions are well documented within the social neuroscienceliterature and have been closely associated with processing stimuli with emotional andsocial significance (Phelps, 2006). Fig. 2

Bottom Line: We found a shared neural network associated with empathic concern for both types of decisions.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.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, 15 Chaucer Road, Cambridge CB2 7EF, UK. Oriel.FeldmanHall@mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk

ABSTRACT
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.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus