Cold or calculating? Reduced activity in the subgenual cingulate cortex reflects decreased emotional aversion to harming in counterintuitive utilitarian judgment
Cognition 126 (3):364-372 (2013)
AbstractRecent research on moral decision-making has suggested that many common moral judgments are based on immediate intuitions. However, some individuals arrive at highly counterintuitive utilitarian conclusions about when it is permissible to harm other individuals. Such utilitarian judgments have been attributed to effortful reasoning that has overcome our natural emotional aversion to harming others. Recent studies, however, suggest that such utilitarian judgments might also result from a decreased aversion to harming others, due to a deficit in empathic concern and social emotion. The present study investigated the neural basis of such indifference to harming using functional neuroimaging during engagement in moral dilemmas. A tendency to counterintuitive utilitarian judgment was associated both with ‘psychoticism’, a trait associated with a lack of empathic concern and antisocial tendencies, and with ‘need for cognition’, a trait reflecting preference for effortful cognition. Importantly, only psychoticism was also negatively correlated with activation in the subgenual cingulate cortex (SCC), a brain area implicated in empathic concern and social emotions such as guilt, during counterintuitive utilitarian judgments. Our findings suggest that when individuals reach highly counterintuitive utilitarian conclusions, this need not reflect greater engagement in explicit moral deliberation. It may rather reflect a lack of empathic concern, and diminished aversion to harming others.
Similar books and articles
The Neural Basis of Intuitive and Counterintuitive Moral Judgement.Guy Kahane, Katja Wiech, Nicholas Shackel, Miguel Farias, Julian Savulescu & Irene Tracey - 2011 - Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 7 (4):393-402.
Beta Adrenergic Blockade Reduces Utilitarian Judgement.Sylvia Terbeck, Guy Kahane, Sarah McTavish, Julian Savulescu, Neil Levy, Miles Hewstone & Philip Cowen - 2013 - Biological Psychology 92 (2):323-328.
On the Wrong Track: Process and Content in Moral Psychology.Guy Kahane - 2012 - Mind and Language 27 (5):519-545.
Methodological Issues in the Neuroscience of Moral Judgement.Guy Kahane & Nicholas Shackel - 2010 - Mind and Language 25 (5):561-582.
Reflection and Reasoning in Moral Judgment.Joshua D. Greene - 2012 - Cognitive Science 36 (1):163-177.
Moral Reasoning: Hints and Allegations.Joseph M. Paxton & Joshua D. Greene - 2010 - Topics in Cognitive Science 2 (3):511-527.
Utilitarian Emotions: Suggestions From Introspection.Jonathan Baron - 2011 - Emotion Review 3 (3):286-286.
Emotional and Cognitive Processing in Empathy and Moral Behavior.Paul J. Eslinger, Jorge Moll & Ricardo de Oliveira-Souza - 2001 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 25 (1):34-35.
Is the Emotional Dog Wagging its Rational Tail, or Chasing It?: Reason in Moral Judgment.Cordelia Fine - 2006 - Philosophical Explorations 9 (1):83 – 98.
Sentimental Rules:On the Natural Foundations of Moral Judgment: On the Natural Foundations of Moral Judgment.Shaun Nichols - 2004 - Oxford University Press.
The Elimination of Morality: Reflections on Utilitarianism and Bioethics.Anne Maclean - 1993 - Routledge.
The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment.Jonathan Haidt - 2001 - Psychological Review 108 (4):814-834.
Added to PP
Historical graph of downloads
Citations of this work
Beyond Sacrificial Harm: A Two-Dimensional Model of Utilitarian Psychology.Guy Kahane, Jim A. C. Everett, Brian D. Earp, Lucius Caviola, Nadira S. Faber, Molly J. Crockett & Julian Savulescu - 2018 - Psychological Review 125 (2):131-164.
The Dark Side of Morality – Neural Mechanisms Underpinning Moral Convictions and Support for Violence.Clifford I. Workman, Keith J. Yoder & Jean Decety - 2020 - American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 11 (4):269-284.
Cognitive Load Selectively Interferes with Utilitarian Moral Judgment.Jonathan D. Cohen Joshua D. Greene, Sylvia A. Morelli, Kelly Lowenberg, Leigh E. Nystrom - 2008 - Cognition 107 (3):1144.
‘Utilitarian’ Judgments in Sacrificial Moral Dilemmas Do Not Reflect Impartial Concern for the Greater Good.Guy Kahane, Jim A. C. Everett, Brian D. Earp, Miguel Farias & Julian Savulescu - 2015 - Cognition 134 (C):193-209.
Moral Learning: Conceptual Foundations and Normative Relevance.Peter Railton - 2017 - Cognition 167 (C):172-190.
References found in this work
Lectures on the Ethics of T. H. Green, Mr. Herbert Spencer and J. Martineau.Henry Sidgwick - 1871 - Thoemmes Press.
Damage to the Prefrontal Cortex Increases Utilitarian Moral Judgements.Michael Koenigs, Liane Young, Ralph Adolphs, Daniel Tranel, Fiery Cushman, Marc Hauser & Antonio Damasio - 2007 - Nature 446 (7138):908-911.
The Secret Joke of Kant’s Soul.Joshua Greene - 2007 - In W. Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.), Moral Psychology, Vol. 3. MIT Press.