Impairment in judgement of the moral emotion guilt following orbitofrontal cortex damage

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Abstract

Although neuroimaging studies have provided evidence for an association between moral emotions and the orbitofrontal cortex, studies on patients with focal lesions using experimental probes of moral emotions are scarce. Here, we addressed this topic by presenting a moral emotion judgement task to patients with focal brain damage. Four judgement tasks in a simple pairwise choice paradigm were given to 72 patients with cerebrovascular disease. These tasks consisted of a perceptual line judgement task as a control task; the objects’ preference task as a basic preference judgement task; and two types of moral emotion judgement task, an anger task and a guilt task. A multiple linear regression analysis was performed on each set of task performance scores to take into account potential confounders. Performance on the guilt emotion judgement task negatively correlated with the orbitofrontal cortex damage, but not with the other variables. Results for the other judgement tasks did not reach statistical significance. The close association between orbitofrontal cortex damage and a decrease in guilt emotion judgement consistency might suggest that the orbitofrontal cortex plays a key role in the sense of guilt, a hallmark of morality.

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