People are motivated by shared social values that, when held with moral conviction, can serve as compelling mandates capable of facilitating support for ideological violence. The current study examined this dark side of morality by identifying specific cognitive and neural mechanisms associated with beliefs about the appropriateness of sociopolitical violence, and determining the extent to which the engagement of these mechanisms was predicted by moral convictions. Participants reported their moral convictions about a variety of sociopolitical issues prior to undergoing functional (...) MRI scanning. During scanning, they were asked to evaluate the appropriateness of violent protests that were ostensibly congruent or incongruent with their views about sociopolitical issues. Complementary univariate and multivariate analytical strategies comparing neural responses to congruent and incongruent violence identified neural mechanisms implicated in processing salience and in the encoding of subjective value. As predicted, neuro-hemodynamic response was modulated parametrically by individuals’ beliefs about the appropriateness of congruent relative to incongruent sociopolitical violence in ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and by moral conviction in ventral striatum. Overall moral conviction was predicted by neural response to congruent relative to incongruent violence in amygdala. Together, these findings indicate that moral conviction about sociopolitical issues serves to increase their subjective value, overriding natural aversion to interpersonal harm. (shrink)
Empathy is thought to play a key role in motivating prosocial behavior, guiding our preferences and behavioral responses, and providing the affective and motivational base for moral development. While these abilities have traditionally been examined using behavioral methods, recent work in evolutionary biology, developmental and cognitive neuroscience has begun to shed light on the neural circuitry that instantiate them. The purpose of this article is to critically examine the current knowledge in the field of affective neuroscience and provide an integrative (...) and comprehensive view of the computational mechanisms that underlie empathy. This framework is of general interest and relevance for theory as well as for assisting future research in the domains of affective developmental neuroscience and psychopathology. (shrink)
There is converging evidence from developmental and cognitive psychology, as well as from neuroscience, to suggest that the self is both special and social, and that self-other interaction is the driving force behind self-development. We review experimental findings which demonstrate that human infants are motivated for social interactions and suggest that the development of an awareness of other minds is rooted in the implicit notion that others are like the self. We then marshal evidence from functional neuroimaging explorations of the (...) neurophysiological substrate of shared representations between the self and others, using various ecological paradigms such as mentally representing one's own actions versus others' actions, watching the actions executed by others, imitating the others' actions versus being imitated by others. We suggest that within this shared neural network the inferior parietal cortex and the prefrontal cortex in the right hemisphere play a special role in the essential ability to distinguish the self from others, and in the way the self represents the other. Interestingly, the right hemisphere develops its functions earlier than the left. (shrink)
This paper selectively reviews the neurophysiological evidence for shared neural circuits (supposedly implemented by mirror neurons) as the mechanism underlying empathy. I will argue that while the mirror neuron system plays a role in motor resonance, it is not possible to conclude that this system is critically involved in emotion recognition, and there is little evidence for its role in empathy and sympathy. In addition, there is modest support from neurological observations that lesion of the regions involved in the mirror (...) neuron system leads to dysfunction in empathy, whereas damage of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is associated with such impairment. To significantly advance our understanding of the mechanisms underlying empathy, research needs finer conceptualization, better designed paradigms, and integration with knowledge from lesion studies. (shrink)
Though traditional accounts of moral development focus on the development of rational and deliberate thinking, recent work in developmental affective neuroscience suggests that moral cognition is tightly related to affective and emotional processing. Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies show age-related changes in response to empathy-eliciting stimuli, with a gradual shift from the monitoring of somatovisceral responses in young children mediated by the amygdala, insula and medial aspect of the orbitofrontal cortex, to the executive control and evaluation of emotion processing implemented (...) by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in older participants. These data indicate that the development of moral reasoning involves the increasing integration of empathic emotion-related somatovisceral responses with more complex social-reasoning abilities. (shrink)
In recent years, neurophysiological evidence has accumulated in favor of a common coding between perception and execution of action. We review findings from recent neuroimaging experiments in the action domain with three complementary perspectives: perception of action, covert action triggered by perception, and reproduction of perceived action (imitation). All studies point to the parietal cortex as a key region for body movement representation, both observed and performed.
To explore the neural mechanisms engaged by the perception of action with the intent to imitate, positron emission tomographic activation studies were performed in healthy human subjects. We discuss the results in light of the framework proposed by Byrne & Russon, especially the distinction between mechanisms subserving action-level and program-level imitation.
Empathy is a complex social cognitive construct. Its scientific investigation requires both a careful analysis of the concepts used as well as a multilevel integrative analysis, including studies with atypical populations, not just neuroimaging data in healthy participants. Further, the fact that the experience of empathy involves both intrapersonal and interpersonal emotional states poses a challenge to neuroscientific investigations.