Neuroethics Publications

Neural Correlates of Post-Conventional Moral Reasoning: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study

Kristin Prehn
Marc Korczykowski, University of Pennsylvania
Hengyi Rao, University of Pennsylvania
Zhuo Fang, University of Pennsylvania
John A. Detre, University of Pennsylvania
Diana C. Robertson, University of Pennsylvania

Document Type Journal Article

Abstract

Going back to Kohlberg, moral development research affirms that people progress through different stages of moral reasoning as cognitive abilities mature. Individuals at a lower level of moral reasoning judge moral issues mainly based on self-interest (personal interests schema) or based on adherence to laws and rules (maintaining norms schema), whereas individuals at the post-conventional level judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals. However, the extent to which moral development is reflected in structural brain architecture remains unknown. To investigate this question, we used voxel-based morphometry and examined the brain structure in a sample of 67 Master of Business Administration (MBA) students. Subjects completed the Defining Issues Test (DIT-2) which measures moral development in terms of cognitive schema preference. Results demonstrate that subjects at the post-conventional level of moral reasoning were characterized by increased gray matter volume in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, compared with subjects at a lower level of moral reasoning. Our findings support an important role for both cognitive and emotional processes in moral reasoning and provide first evidence for individual differences in brain structure according to the stages of moral reasoning first proposed by Kohlberg decades ago.

 

Date Posted: 16 March 2016

This document has been peer reviewed.