Brain: where moral decisions arise

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No specific region responsible for moral decisions in the brain

German scientists have for the first time analyzed which brain regions are responsible for moral decisions. They found that no special brain region takes on this task. Rather, they are rational processing processes on the basis of which moral judgments would be made.

Moral values ​​are essential in living together
Moral values ​​are essential in people's living together. Two German scientists have recently investigated exactly where moral decisions are made in the brain. It turned out that the areas of the brain for moral decision-making correspond almost completely to those responsible for understanding other people's thoughts or emotions. "The finding speaks against the existence of a specifically moral brain region and for the development of complex social services such as moral decisions from developmentally older brain functions," explains the medical student Danilo Bzdok, who is part of the international DFG research training group "Schizophrenia and Autism" at the clinic for Psychiatry, psychotherapy and psychosomatics at the Aachen University Hospital researches. "Large parts of the medial prefrontal cortex, the precune, the temporo-parietal junction as well as the amygdala and the posterior zingular cortex were involved in these processes as well as in moral decisions." Bzdok also works with Professor Simon Eickhoff from Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf at the Institute for Neuroscience at Research Center Jülich.

With the so-called "Activation Likelihood Estimation Meta-Analysis", a new method for the statistical summary of functional imaging findings, Eickhoff and Bzdok examined hundreds of study data for statistical similarities. This enabled the two scientists to make a comparison between the brain regions that are particularly active in making moral, rational, and emotion-based decisions.

Moral decisions are based on rational processing processes in the brain. Analysis of the functional imaging findings also revealed that moral decisions are largely based on rational processing processes in the brain. "These decision-making processes take place in the so-called 'default mode' regions, which are responsible for processing a wide range of abstract social-cognitive considerations," explains Eickhoff.

Moral thinking is therefore primarily a rational process that is incorporated into interpersonal relationships through empathic empathy with emotions. "This picture of human morality coincides very well with clinical observations of psychopaths, who perform above average in theoretical moral questions, but behave immorally in everyday life due to a lack of empathy," added Eickhoff.

Women and men show different moral emotions It has long been known that women and men think and feel differently. Researchers from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in Queretaro last year used a brain scanner to examine what the so-called moral emotion of women and men shows in the brain. Fernando Barrios' team observed the activity of various brain regions while the study participants looked at pictures and gave signs of sympathy, for example when looking at photos of starving children.

Although men and women expressed compassion about the same number of times when viewing the images, the corresponding images of the brain scan showed very different measurement results. Barrios reports that the images of the female brains looked richer and more complex at first glance. The men's brains would have shown activity in only a few, focused areas.

Women who are currently feeling compassion activate the "gyrus cinguli", which is an important integration center for empathy, because it brings together emotionally relevant information from different regions of the brain for decision-making. Although this region is not active for men, it is the parietal lobe, which tends to analyze various environmental observations. (ag)

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