Zhuo Fang, Wi Hoon Jung, Marc Korczykowski, Lijuan Luo, and others
Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 7105 (2017)
People vary considerably in moral reasoning. According to Kohlberg’s theory, individuals who reach the highest level of post-conventional moral reasoning judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals rather than self-interest or adherence to laws and rules. Recent research has suggested the involvement of the brain’s frontostriatal reward system in moral judgments and prosocial behaviors. However, it remains unknown whether moral reasoning level is associated with differences in reward system function. Here, we combined arterial spin labeling perfusion and blood oxygen level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging and measured frontostriatal reward system activity both at rest and during a sequential risky decision making task in a sample of 64 participants at different levels of moral reasoning. Compared to individuals at the pre-conventional and conventional level of moral reasoning, post-conventional individuals showed increased resting cerebral blood flow in the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Cerebral blood flow in these brain regions correlated with the degree of post-conventional thinking across groups. Post-conventional individuals also showed greater task-induced activation in the ventral striatum during risky decision making. These findings suggest that high-level post-conventional moral reasoning is associated with increased activity in the brain’s frontostriatal system, regardless of task-dependent or task-independent states.
The article is here.