Abstract

Converging evidence suggests that emotion processing mediated by ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) is necessary to prevent personal moral violations. In moral dilemmas, for example, patients with lesions in vmPFC are more willing than normal controls to approve harmful actions that maximize good consequences (e.g., utilitarian moral judgments). Yet, none of the existing studies has measured subjects' emotional responses while they considered moral dilemmas. Therefore, a direct link between emotion processing and moral judgment is still lacking. Here, vmPFC patients and control participants considered moral dilemmas while skin conductance response (SCR) was measured as a somatic index of affective state. Replicating previous evidence, vmPFC patients approved more personal moral violations than did controls. Critically, we found that, unlike control participants, vmPFC patients failed to generate SCRs before endorsing personal moral violations. In addition, such anticipatory SCRs correlated negatively with the frequency of utilitarian judgments in normal participants. These findings provide direct support to the hypothesis that the vmPFC promotes moral behavior by mediating the anticipation of the emotional consequences of personal moral violations.

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