Disrupting the right prefrontal cortex alters moral judgement

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Abstract

Humans daily face social situations involving conflicts between competing moral decision. Despite a substantial amount of studies published over the past 10 years, the respective role of emotions and reason, their possible interaction, and their behavioural expression during moral evaluation remains an unresolved issue. A dualistic approach to moral evaluation proposes that the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFc) controls emotional impulses. However, recent findings raise the possibility that the right DLPFc processes emotional information during moral decision making. We used repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to transiently disrupt rDLPFc activity before measuring decision making in the context of moral dilemmas. Results reveal an increase of the probability of utilitarian responses during objective evaluation of moral dilemmas in the rTMS group (compared to a SHAM one). This suggests that the right DLPFc function not only participates to a rational cognitive control process, but also integrates emotions generated by contextual information appraisal, which are decisive for response selection in moral judgements.

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