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Biol Psychol. 2015 May;108:51-5. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2015.03.004. Epub 2015 Mar 23.

Autonomic and prefrontal events during moral elevation.

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Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, NY, United States. Electronic address:
Osher Center, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, United States. Electronic address:
School of Psychological Science, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, United States. Electronic address:


Moral elevation, or elevation, is a specific emotional state triggered by witnessing displays of profound virtue and moral beauty. This study set out to characterize the physiology underlying elevation with measurements of heart rate (HR), respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) activity. During elevation, HR and RSA increased. These findings illustrate that elevation involves an uncommon combination of both sympathetic and parasympathetic activation, which is present in circumstances where arousal and social engagement are both required. In addition, we show evidence of content-dependent alterations of mPFC activity during elevation peaks. Altogether, this study shows that the induction of moral elevation recruits an uncommon autonomic and neural pattern that is consistent with previous understanding of socioemotional-induced allostasis.


Elevation; Prefrontal cortex; Prosocial; Vagal

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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