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Neural substrates for moral judgments of psychological versus physical harm.

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2018 Apr 28;:

Authors: Tsoi L, Dungan JA, Chakroff A, Young LL

While we may think about harm as primarily being about physical injury, harm can also take the form of negative psychological impact. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we examined the extent to which moral judgments of physical and psychological harms are processed similarly, focusing on brain regions implicated in mental state reasoning or theory of mind, a key cognitive process for moral judgment. First, univariate analyses reveal item-specific features that lead to greater recruitment of theory of mind regions for psychological harm versus physical harm. Second, multivariate pattern analyses (MVPA) reveal sensitivity to the psychological/physical distinction in two regions implicated in theory of mind: the right temporoparietal junction and the precuneus. Third, we find no reliable differences between neurotypical adults and adults with autism spectrum disorder with regard to neural activity related to theory of mind during moral evaluations of psychological and physical harm. Altogether, these results reveal neural sensitivity to the distinction between psychological harm and physical harm.

PMID: 29718384 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

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