Moral decision-making, ToM, empathy, and the default mode network

Renate Reniers, Rhiannon Corcoran, Birgit Völlm, Asha Mashru, Richard Howard, Peter Liddle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)
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Automatic intuitions and deliberate reasoning, sourcing internal representations of our personal norms and values, contribute to our beliefs of what is right and wrong. We used fMRI to directly compare moral (M) and non-moral (NM) decision-making processes using scenarios requiring conscious deliberation, whereby the main character declared an intention to take a course of action. Furthermore, we examined the relationship between BOLD signal, associated with M > NM decision-making, and moral judgment competence, psychopathy, and empathy. We observed greater activity in various parts of Theory of Mind, empathy and default mode networks during M > NM decision-making. There was a trend for high scores on primary psychopathy to correlate with decreased M > NM BOLD activation in an area extending from dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to medial prefrontal cortex. We suggest that moral decision-making entails a greater degree of internally directed processing, such as self-referential mental processing and the representation of intentions and feelings, than non-moral decision-making.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-210
JournalBiological Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


  • moral decision-making
  • fMRI
  • ToM
  • empathy
  • default mode network
  • psychopathy


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