Traditional theories of moral psychology emphasize reasoning and "higher cognition," while more recent work emphasizes the role of emotion. The present fMRI data support a theory of moral judgment according to which both "cognitive" and emotional processes play crucial and sometimes mutually competitive roles. The present results indicate that brain regions associated with abstract reasoning and cognitive control (including dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex) are recruited to resolve difficult personal moral dilemmas in which utilitarian values require "personal" moral violations, violations that have previously been associated with increased activity in emotion-related brain regions. Several regions of frontal and parietal cortex predict intertrial differences in moral judgment behavior, exhibiting greater activity for utilitarian judgments. We speculate that the controversy surrounding utilitarian moral philosophy reflects an underlying tension between competing subsystems in the brain.
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