Joshua Greene, Leigh E. Nystrom, Andrew D. Engell, John M. Darley, Jonathan Cohen, The Neural Bases of Cognitive Conflict and Control in Moral Judgement, Neuron, 2004, Vol. 44, 389-400.
Thesis 1: Both cognitive and emotional processes play crucial and sometimes mutually competitive roles in moral judgment.
Thesis 2: Difficult personal moral dillemas involve increased reasoning and cognitive control.
Thesis 3: Cognitive processes favor utilitarian moral judgments.
(b) Experimental setting
Experiment 1: Participants were asked to respond to a difficult moral dilemma (the crying baby dilemma) and an easy moral dilemma (infanticide dilemma) while having their brains scanned by fMRI. Difficult, as compared to easy personal dillema, involved increased activity bilaterally in both the anterior dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), associated with abstract reasoning processes and cognitive control and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) associated with cognitive conflict.
Experiment 2: Neural activity associated with utilitarian judgements (accepting a personal moral violation in favor of a greater good) was compared to neural activity associated with nonutilitarian judgements (prohibiting a personal moral violation despite its utilitarian value). For utilitarian judgments, increased activity in the anterior DLPFC was found.
2. Critical comments
1) The results of the experiments do not show that utilitarian judgements are wholly associated with cognition whereas nonutilitarian judgements are associated only with emotions. Therefore, it is difficult to state what is the exact role of cognition and emotions in those judgments.
2) It would be interesting to see, how persons with lesions to DLPFC and ACC structures respond to easy (“infanticide”) and difficult (“the crying baby”) moral dilemmas. Particularly, it is interesting whether persons with the aforementioned lesions respond to these dilemmas in a nonutilitarian way.