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J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2012 Nov;18(6):962-71. doi: 10.1017/S1355617712000690. Epub 2012 Aug 29.

It is the outcome that counts! Damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex disrupts the integration of outcome and belief information for moral judgment.

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Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università di Bologna, Bologna, Italy.


Moral judgment involves considering not only the outcome of an action but also the intention with which it was pursued. Previous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research has shown that integrating outcome and belief information for moral judgment relies on a brain network including temporo-parietal, precuneus, and medial prefrontal regions. Here, we investigated whether the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) plays a crucial role in this process. Patients with lesions in vmPFC (vmPFC patients), and brain-damaged and healthy controls considered scenarios in which the protagonist caused intentional harm (negative-outcome, negative-belief), accidental harm (negative-outcome, neutral-belief), attempted harm (neutral-outcome, negative-belief), or no harm (neutral-outcome, neutral-belief), and rated the moral permissibility of the protagonists' behavior. All groups responded similarly to scenarios involving intentional harm and no harm. vmPFC patients, however, judged attempted harm as more permissible, and accidental harm as less permissible, than the control groups. For vmPFC patients, outcome information, rather than belief information, shaped moral judgment. The results indicate that vmPFC is necessary for integrating outcome and belief information during moral reasoning. During moral judgment vmPFC may mediate intentions' understanding, and overriding of prepotent responses to salient outcomes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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