The neural correlates of moral decision-making: A systematic review and meta-analysis of moral evaluations and response decision judgements

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Abstract

The aims of this systematic review were to determine: (a) which brain areas are consistently more active when making (i) moral response decisions, defined as choosing a response to a moral dilemma, or deciding whether to accept a proposed solution, or (ii) moral evaluations, defined as judging the appropriateness of another’s actions in a moral dilemma, rating moral statements as right or wrong, or identifying important moral issues; and (b) shared and significantly different activation patterns for these two types of moral judgements. A systematic search of the literature returned 28 experiments. Activation likelihood estimate analysis identified the brain areas commonly more active for moral response decisions and for moral evaluations. Conjunction analysis revealed shared activation for both types of moral judgement in the left middle temporal gyrus, cingulate gyrus, and medial frontal gyrus. Contrast analyses found no significant clusters of increased activation for the moral evaluations-moral response decisions contrast, but found that moral response decisions additionally activated the left and right middle temporal gyrus and the right precuneus. Making one’s own moral decisions involves different brain areas compared to judging the moral actions of others, implying that these judgements may involve different processes.

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