Investigating emotion in moral cognition: a review of evidence from functional neuroimaging and neuropsychology

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IntroductionHuman moral decision-making has long been a topic of philosophical debate, and, more recently, a topic for empirical investigation. Central to this investigation is the extent to which emotional processes underlie our decisions about moral right and wrong. Neuroscience offers a unique perspective on this question by addressing whether brain regions associated with emotional processing are involved in moral cognition.MethodWe conduct a narrative review of neuroscientific studies focused on the role of emotion in morality. Specifically, we describe evidence implicating the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC), a brain region known to be important for emotional processing.ResultsFunctional imaging studies demonstrate VMPC activation during tasks probing moral cognition. Studies of clinical populations, including patients with VMPC damage, reveal an association between impairments in emotional processing and impairments in moral judgement and behaviour.ConclusionsConsidered together, these studies indicate that not only are emotions engaged during moral cognition, but that emotions, particularly those mediated by VMPC, are in fact critical for human morality.

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