Neuroethics in a deontological and utilitarian context. An ERP analysis on the “emotional effect”

Andrea Terenzi, Michela Balconi

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in libroContributo a convegno


Research in neuroethics and neuroscience now accepts the idea that emotions play a significant role in decision-making. A main question to be answered is related to the neural correlates underlying decisions for moral task, they being potentially localized into the prefrontal cortex, as suggested by a vast amount of empirical research. We tried to demonstrate that emotional contribution is present in all our ethical choices, by using a neuropsychological measure, that is ERPs (event-related potential measures). 25 subjects students took part in the study. A battery of moral dilemmas was furnished to the subjects and they were required to express their option. All moral dilemmas have the same structure, in which a person must choose one of two alternatives that oppose two principles: not to violate our moral values (deontological option) with negative consequence for other people; and to ensure that our acts have positive consequences by violating our moral values (utilitarian option). We then proceeded with the first step of morphological analysis on ERPs, and a computerized peak detection, that revealed the presence of a N200 peak deflection. Two groups of subjects were computed based on their more consistent options (more deontological vs. utilitarian option). Different sets of ANOVA were performed for the moral dilemmas to the detected N200 peak. Its modulation was assessed with three-factors (between-subject, group 2; within-group, site 4, and lateralization 2) mixed measure ANOVA. Analysis showed an increased frontal activation in comparison with the other sites (all comparisons p <.01). Moreover, a more right side activation was observable. In previous research it was underlined the emotional significance of this ERP deflection, when subjects were required to judge the emotional value of the stimuli. We may conclude that both the deontological and the utilitarian choices include an emotional response.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteProceedings of the «8th IBRO World Congress of Neuroscience»
Numero di pagine1
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2011
Evento8th IBRO World Congress of Neuroscience - Firenze
Durata: 14 lug 201118 lug 2011


Convegno8th IBRO World Congress of Neuroscience


  • neuropsychology


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