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Neuroreport. 2003 Jul 1;14(9):1215-9.

An fMRI study of simple ethical decision-making.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Charité, Berlin, Germany.


Recent functional neuroimaging studies suggest that ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), left posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) and posterior cingulate cortex are engaged during moral decision-making on complex dilemmatic or salient emotional stimuli. In this fMRI study we investigated which of these brain regions are activated during simple ethical decision-making about unambiguous scenarios not containing direct bodily harm or violence. Simple moral decisions compared to semantic decisions resulted in activation of left pSTS and middle temporal gyrus, bilateral temporal poles, left lateral PFC and bilateral vmPFC. These results suggest that pSTS and vmPFC are a common neuronal substrate of decision-making about complex ethical dilemmas, processing material evocative of moral emotions and simple ethical decision-making about scenarios devoid of violence and direct bodily harm.

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