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It Is the Outcome that Counts! Damage to the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Disrupts the Integration of Outcome and Belief Information for Moral Judgment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 August 2012

Elisa Ciaramelli*
Affiliation:
Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università di Bologna, Italy Centro studi e ricerche in Neuroscienze Cognitive, Università di Bologna, Italy
Davide Braghittoni
Affiliation:
Centro studi e ricerche in Neuroscienze Cognitive, Università di Bologna, Italy
Giuseppe di Pellegrino
Affiliation:
Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università di Bologna, Italy Centro studi e ricerche in Neuroscienze Cognitive, Università di Bologna, Italy
*
Correspondence and reprint requests to: Elisa Ciaramelli, Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università di Bologna, Viale Berti Pichat 5, 40126 Bologna, Italy. E-mail: elisa.ciaramelli@unibo.it

Abstract

Moral judgment involves considering not only the outcome of an action but also the intention with which it was pursued. Previous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research has shown that integrating outcome and belief information for moral judgment relies on a brain network including temporo-parietal, precuneus, and medial prefrontal regions. Here, we investigated whether the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) plays a crucial role in this process. Patients with lesions in vmPFC (vmPFC patients), and brain-damaged and healthy controls considered scenarios in which the protagonist caused intentional harm (negative-outcome, negative-belief), accidental harm (negative-outcome, neutral-belief), attempted harm (neutral-outcome, negative-belief), or no harm (neutral-outcome, neutral-belief), and rated the moral permissibility of the protagonists’ behavior. All groups responded similarly to scenarios involving intentional harm and no harm. vmPFC patients, however, judged attempted harm as more permissible, and accidental harm as less permissible, than the control groups. For vmPFC patients, outcome information, rather than belief information, shaped moral judgment. The results indicate that vmPFC is necessary for integrating outcome and belief information during moral reasoning. During moral judgment vmPFC may mediate intentions’ understanding, and overriding of prepotent responses to salient outcomes. (JINS, 2012, 18, 1–10)

Type
Symposia
Copyright
Copyright © The International Neuropsychological Society 2012

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It Is the Outcome that Counts! Damage to the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Disrupts the Integration of Outcome and Belief Information for Moral Judgment
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