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Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2012 Jan;2(1):162-73. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2011.09.002.

Neural development of mentalizing in moral judgment from adolescence to adulthood.

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  • 1The Mind Research Network, 1101 Yale Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87131, United States.


The neural mechanisms underlying moral judgment have been extensively studied in healthy adults. How these mechanisms evolve from adolescence to adulthood has received less attention. Brain regions that have been consistently implicated in moral judgment in adults, including the superior temporal cortex and prefrontal cortex, undergo extensive developmental changes from adolescence to adulthood. Thus, their role in moral judgment may also change over time. In the present study, 51 healthy male participants age 13–53 were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they viewed pictures that did or did not depict situations considered by most individuals to represent moral violations, and rated their degree of moral violation severity. Consistent with predictions, a regression analysis revealed a positive correlation between age and hemodynamic activity in the temporo-parietal junction when participants made decisions regarding moral severity.This region is known to contribute to mentalizing processes during moral judgment in adults and suggests that adolescents use these types of inferences less during moral judgment than do adults. A positive correlation with age was also present in the posterior cingulate. Overall, the results suggest that the brain regions utilized in moral judgment change over development.

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