Jorge Moll, Paul J. Eslinger, Ricardo de Oliveira Sousa, Frontopolar and anterior temporal cortex activation in a moral judgement task: a preliminary functional MRI results in normal subjects, Arq. Neuropsiquiatr, 59, pp. 657-664.
Thesis 1: Frontopolar cortex (FPC) and anterior temporal cortex (ATC) play a critical role in the mediation of complex judgement processes according to moral constraints.
Thesis 2: Anterior temporal lobe is involved in emotional valence of moral judgements.
Thesis 3: FPC is involved in the organisation of behaviours grounded on moral knowledge.
(b) Experimental setting:
Experiment 1: Moral and factual sentences were auditorily presented to the participants. Subjects were asked to think about each statement and to judge whether they found them right or wrong. Furthermore, subjects were instructed to think over the content of each sentence until the presentation of the next one. After the first scanning session, the whole list was presented a second time. Subjects were instructed to recall to their impressions and to rate each sentence on a 4 point scale asright or wrong, as well as the degree of moral content, emotional valence, and judgement difficulty. Comparing brain activity during moral and factual judgements, the most consistently activated regions across subjects were the FPC and the medial frontal gyrus. Right anterior temporal lobe was also extensively activated.
Experiment 2: The above mentioned results were adjusted to the effects of emotional valence. The frontopolar and medial frontal activations remained almost unchanged, still being the largest areas of activation. However, there was reduction in activation of the anterior temporal lobe.
2. Critical comments
1) The role of FPC in moral judgement was not stated explicitly. The results of the experiment, show that this region is extensively active during the making of moral judgement, however, it is not clear whether FPC is a cognitive, emotional or a different kind of mechanism that regulates moral behaviour.
2) It would be interesting to see, whether FPC is active during processing of moral and conventional norms. The ability to distinguish between moral and conventional norms is important to be recognized as a moral agent, therefore the role of FPC in moral behaviour could be strenghtened or weakened, depending on the results of such an experiment.