Hartmut Leuthold, Angelika Kunkel, Ian G. Mackenzie and Ruth Filik
Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci (2015)
Experimental studies using fictional moral dilemmas indicate that both automatic emotional processes and controlled cognitive processes contribute to moral judgments. However, not much is known about how people process socio-normative violations that are more common to their everyday life nor the time-course of these processes. Thus, we recorded participants’ electrical brain activity while they were reading vignettes that either contained morally acceptable vs unacceptable information or text materials that contained information which was either consistent or inconsistent with their general world knowledge. A first event-related brain potential (ERP) positivity peaking at ∼200 ms after critical word onset (P200) was larger when this word involved a socio-normative or knowledge-based violation. Subsequently, knowledge-inconsistent words triggered a larger centroparietal ERP negativity at ∼320 ms (N400), indicating an influence on meaning construction. In contrast, a larger ERP positivity (larger late positivity), which also started at ∼320 ms after critical word onset, was elicited by morally unacceptable compared with acceptable words. We take this ERP positivity to reflect an implicit evaluative (good–bad) categorization process that is engaged during the online processing of moral transgressions.
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