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Cereb Cortex. 2009 Feb;19(2):276-83. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn080. Epub 2008 May 22.

The neural basis of human social values: evidence from functional MRI.

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  • 1National Institutes of Health, National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Cognitive Neuroscience Section, Bethesda, MD 20892-1440, USA.

Abstract

Social values are composed of social concepts (e.g., "generosity") and context-dependent moral sentiments (e.g., "pride"). The neural basis of this intricate cognitive architecture has not been investigated thus far. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging while subjects imagined their own actions toward another person (self-agency) which either conformed or were counter to a social value and were associated with pride or guilt, respectively. Imagined actions of another person toward the subjects (other-agency) in accordance with or counter to a value were associated with gratitude or indignation/anger. As hypothesized, superior anterior temporal lobe (aTL) activity increased with conceptual detail in all conditions. During self-agency, activity in the anterior ventromedial prefrontal cortex correlated with pride and guilt, whereas activity in the subgenual cingulate solely correlated with guilt. In contrast, indignation/anger activated lateral orbitofrontal-insular cortices. Pride and gratitude additionally evoked mesolimbic and basal forebrain activations. Our results demonstrate that social values emerge from coactivation of stable abstract social conceptual representations in the superior aTL and context-dependent moral sentiments encoded in fronto-mesolimbic regions. This neural architecture may provide the basis of our ability to communicate about the meaning of social values across cultural contexts without limiting our flexibility to adapt their emotional interpretation.

PMID:
18502730
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2733324
Free PMC Article
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