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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e39384. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039384. Epub 2012 Jun 20.

Neural basis of moral elevation demonstrated through inter-subject synchronization of cortical activity during free-viewing.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, United States of America.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Most research investigating the neural basis of social emotions has examined emotions that give rise to negative evaluations of others (e.g. anger, disgust). Emotions triggered by the virtues and excellences of others have been largely ignored. Using fMRI, we investigated the neural basis of two "other-praising" emotions--Moral Elevation (a response to witnessing acts of moral beauty), and Admiration (which we restricted to admiration for physical skill).

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS:

Ten participants viewed the same nine video clips. Three clips elicited moral elevation, three elicited admiration, and three were emotionally neutral. We then performed pair-wise voxel-by-voxel correlations of the BOLD signal between individuals for each video clip and a separate resting-state run. We observed a high degree of inter-subject synchronization, regardless of stimulus type, across several brain regions during free-viewing of videos. Videos in the elevation condition evoked significant inter-subject synchronization in brain regions previously implicated in self-referential and interoceptive processes, including the medial prefrontal cortex, precuneus, and insula. The degree of synchronization was highly variable over the course of the videos, with the strongest synchrony occurring during portions of the videos that were independently rated as most emotionally arousing. Synchrony in these same brain regions was not consistently observed during the admiration videos, and was absent for the neutral videos.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE:

Results suggest that the neural systems supporting moral elevation are remarkably consistent across subjects viewing the same emotional content. We demonstrate that model-free techniques such as inter-subject synchronization may be a useful tool for studying complex, context dependent emotions such as self-transcendent emotion.

PMID:
22745745
PMCID:
PMC3379986
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0039384
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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