Keith J. Yoder and Jean Decety
J. Neurosci. 2014;34 4161-4166
Morality is a fundamental component of human cultures and has been defined as prescriptive norms regarding how people should treat one another, including concepts such as justice, fairness, and rights. Using fMRI, the current study examined the extent to which dispositions in justice sensitivity (i.e., how individuals react to experiences of injustice and unfairness) predict behavioral ratings of praise and blame and how they modulate the online neural response and functional connectivity when participants evaluate morally laden (good and bad) everyday actions. Justice sensitivity did not impact the neuro-hemodynamic response in the action-observation network but instead influenced higher-order computational nodes in the right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ), right dorsolateral and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (rdlPFC, dmPFC) that process mental states understanding and maintain goal representations. Activity in these regions predicted praise and blame ratings. Further, the hemodynamic response in rTPJ showed a differentiation between good and bad actions 2 s before the response in rdlPFC. Evaluation of good actions was specifically associated with enhanced activity in dorsal striatum and increased the functional coupling between the rTPJ and the anterior cingulate cortex. Together, this study provides important knowledge in how individual differences in justice sensitivity impact neural computations that support psychological processes involved in moral judgment and mental-state reasoning.