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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2008 Dec;3(4):313-21. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsn026. Epub 2008 Oct 19.

Gender differences in neural mechanisms underlying moral sensitivity.

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The Mind Research Network, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA.


Researchers have proposed that females and males differ in the structure of their moral attitudes, such that females tend to adopt care-based moral evaluations and males tend to adopt justice-based moral evaluations. The existence of these gender differences remains a controversial issue, as behavioral studies have reported mixed findings. The current study investigated the neural correlates of moral sensitivity in females and males, to test the hypothesis that females would show increased activity in brain regions associated with care-based processing (posterior and anterior cingulate, anterior insula) relative to males when evaluating moral stimuli, and males would show increased activity in regions associated with justice-based processing (superior temporal sulcus) relative to females. Twenty-eight participants (14 females) were scanned using fMRI while viewing unpleasant pictures, half of which depicted moral violations, and rated each picture on the degree of moral violation that they judged to be present. As predicted, females showed a stronger modulatory relationship between posterior cingulate and insula activity during picture viewing and subsequent moral ratings relative to males. Males showed a stronger modulatory relationship between inferior parietal activity and moral ratings relative to females. These results are suggestive of gender differences in strategies utilized in moral appraisals.

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