The Neural Basis of Moral Judgment and Decision Making and the Influence of Individual Differences in Moral Judgment Competence

Moral judgment comprises a number of processes represented by a distributed network of brain regions that are involved in cognitive functions as well as in emotional processing. Some of these regions are also activated during a variety of social-cognitive tasks. Individuals differ with respect to their competence to make moral judgments and decisions. However, little is known about the neural systems mediating these differences. In order to characterize the known neural network of moral judgment more precisely, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how individual differences in moral judgment competence are represented in the brain.

When making simple moral judgments (deciding whether a behavior is violating a social norm or not), participants with lower moral judgment competence (assessed with the Moral Judgment Test by Lind, 1977/2005) recruited the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) more than those with more competence in this domain. Because dlPFC is associated with control processes and task monitoring we interprete activity in right dlPFC as increased processing demands due to a controlled implementation of social norms into the decision making process in participants with lower moral judgment competence.


Dissertation Project

Kristin Prehn