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Neuroimage. 2004 Nov;23(3):967-74.

Brain activation associated with evaluative processes of guilt and embarrassment: an fMRI study.

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  • 1Section of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Graduate School of Medicine, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Japan.


We aimed to investigate the neural substrates associated with evaluative process of moral emotions. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we examined the similarities and differences between evaluative process of guilt and that of embarrassment at the neural basis level. Study of the neural basis of judgments of moral emotions might contribute to a better understanding of the amoral behavior observed in neurological and psychiatric disorders. Nineteen healthy volunteers were studied. The participants read sentences carrying neutral, guilty, or embarrassing contents during the scans. Both guilt and embarrassment conditions commonly activated the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), left posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS), and visual cortex. Compared to guilt condition, embarrassment condition produced greater activation in the right temporal cortex (anterior), bilateral hippocampus, and visual cortex. Most of these regions have been implicated in the neural substrate of social cognition or Theory of Mind (ToM). Our results support the idea that both are self-conscious emotions, which are social emotions requiring the ability to represent the mental states of others. At the same time, our functional fMRI data are in favor of the notion that evaluative process of embarrassment might be a more complex process than that of guilt.

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