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J Cogn Neurosci. 2012 Aug;24(8):1657-63. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00239. Epub 2012 May 9.

Moral values are associated with individual differences in regional brain volume.

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University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.


Moral sentiment has been hypothesized to reflect evolved adaptations to social living. If so, individual differences in moral values may relate to regional variation in brain structure. We tested this hypothesis in a sample of 70 young, healthy adults examining whether differences on two major dimensions of moral values were significantly associated with regional gray matter volume. The two clusters of moral values assessed were "individualizing" (values of harm/care and fairness) and "binding" (deference to authority, in-group loyalty, and purity/sanctity). Individualizing was positively associated with left dorsomedial pFC volume and negatively associated with bilateral precuneus volume. For binding, a significant positive association was found for bilateral subcallosal gyrus and a trend to significance for the left anterior insula volume. These findings demonstrate that variation in moral sentiment reflects individual differences in brain structure and suggest a biological basis for moral sentiment, distributed across multiple brain regions.

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