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Monday, August 15, 2022

Modular Morals: Mapping the organisation of the moral brain

Wilkinson, J. Curry, O.S., et al.
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Last Updated: 2022-07-12


Is morality the product of multiple domain-specific psychological mechanisms, or one domain-general mechanism? Previous research suggests that morality consists of a range of solutions to the problems of cooperation recurrent in human social life. This theory of ‘morality as cooperation’ suggests that there are (at least) seven specific moral domains: family values, group loyalty, reciprocity, heroism, deference, fairness and property rights. However, it is unclear how these types of morality are implemented at the neuroanatomical level. The possibilities are that morality is (1) the product of multiple distinct domain-specific adaptations for cooperation, (2) the product of a single domain-general adaptation which learns a range of moral rules, or (3) the product of some combination of domain-specific and domain-general adaptations. To distinguish between these possibilities, we first conducted an anatomical likelihood estimation meta-analysis of previous studies investigating the relationship between these seven moral domains and neuroanatomy. This meta-analysis provided evidence for a combination of specific and general adaptations. Next, we investigated the relationship between the seven types of morality – as measured by the Morality as Cooperation Questionnaire (Relevance) – and grey matter volume in a large neuroimaging (n=607) sample. No associations between moral values and grey matter volume survived whole-brain exploratory testing. We conclude that whatever combination of mechanisms are responsible for morality, either they are not neuroanatomically localised, or else their localisation is not manifested in grey matter volume. Future research should employ phylogenetically informed a priori predictions, as well as alternative measures of morality and of brain function.