Center for Psychosocial… Department of General… Research Workgroup Personality… Understanding Brain…

Understanding Brain Mechanisms That Mediate Moral Values

Leading Investigators: Prof. Dr. S.C. Herpertz, Prof. Dr. F. Nüssel
Scientists involved: C. Roth, Dr. phil. nat. K. Ueltzhöffer 
Duration: 2017 – 2020
Funding: Marsilius-Kolleg

Previous imaging studies on moral thinking and action show an activation of neural areas, which are associated with the individual identity construction. This points to a strong integration of moral values into personal identity. In particular, so-called protected moral values, i.e. those values that are considered inviolable, seem to be highly intertwined with them.

Narratives play a special role in learning protected moral values; these are not only used in the mediation of moral values, but also serve the construction of a coherent self and thus of identity. The study of neural underpinnings of moral values is of particular interest to individuals who are characterized by failure to adapt behavior to moral values, especially those with pronounced psychopathic personality traits. Deviations of underlying neural areas point to a dysfunctional internalization of moral values. This fMRI study therefore deals with the neural underpinnings of protected moral values based on narratives, with particular focus on possible derivations in individuals with strongly pronounced psychopathic traits. Starting from Damasio`s “somatic marker theory”, we are primarily interested in the internal representation of moral values that induce emotional signals that draw the attention of the person to the needs and rights of others.