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Monday, April 22, 2019

Moral identity relates to the neural processing of third-party moral behavior

Carolina Pletti, Jean Decety, & Markus Paulus
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience


Moral identity, or moral self, is the degree to which being moral is important to a person’s self-concept. It is hypothesized to be the “missing link” between moral judgment and moral action. However, its cognitive and psychophysiological mechanisms are still subject to debate. In this study, we used Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) to examine whether the moral self concept is related to how people process prosocial and antisocial actions. To this end, participants’ implicit and explicit moral self-concept was assessed. We examined whether individual differences in moral identity relate to differences in early, automatic processes (i.e. EPN, N2) or late, cognitively controlled processes (i.e. LPP) while observing prosocial and antisocial situations. Results show that a higher implicit moral self was related to a lower EPN amplitude for prosocial scenarios. In addition, an enhanced explicit moral self was related to a lower N2 amplitude for prosocial scenarios. The findings demonstrate that the moral self affects the neural processing of morally relevant stimuli during third-party evaluations. They support theoretical considerations that the moral self already affects (early) processing of moral information.

Here is the conclusion:

Taken together, notwithstanding some limitations, this study provides novel insights into the
nature of the moral self. Importantly, the results suggest that the moral self concept influences the
early processing of morally relevant contexts. Moreover, the implicit and the explicit moral self
concepts have different neural correlates, influencing respectively early and intermediate processing
stages. Overall, the findings inform theoretical approaches on how the moral self informs social
information processing (Lapsley & Narvaez, 2004).

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