The neural basis of intuitive and counterintuitive moral judgment

Guy Kahane, Katja Wiech, Nicholas Shackel, Miguel Farias, Julian Savulescu, Irene Tracey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

84 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Neuroimaging studies on moral decision-making have thus far largely focused on differences between moral judgments with opposing utilitarian (well-being maximizing) and deontological (duty-based) content. However, these studies have investigated moral dilemmas involving extreme situations, and did not control for two distinct dimensions of moral judgment: whether or not it is intuitive (immediately compelling to most people) and whether it is utilitarian or deontological in content. By contrasting dilemmas where utilitarian judgments are counterintuitive with dilemmas in which they are intuitive, we were able to use functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify the neural correlates of intuitive and counterintuitive judgments across a range of moral situations. Irrespective of content (utilitarian/deontological), counterintuitive moral judgments were associated with greater difficulty and with activation in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex, suggesting that such judgments may involve emotional conflict; intuitive judgments were linked to activation in the visual and premotor cortex. In addition, we obtained evidence that neural differences in moral judgment in such dilemmas are largely due to whether they are intuitive and not, as previously assumed, to differences between utilitarian and deontological judgments. Our findings therefore do not support theories that have generally associated utilitarian and deontological judgments with distinct neural systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbernsr005
Pages (from-to)393-402
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Volume7
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Decision-making
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Moral judgment
  • Neuroimaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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