The Neurobiological Basis of Morality

Christopher Suhler and Patricia Smith Churchland

in Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199570706
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 The Neurobiological Basis of Morality

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
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The study of morality is increasingly an interdisciplinary endeavor spanning the cognitive, social, and biological sciences. This article provides an overview and synthesis of recent work fields relevant to the scientific understanding of morality, with a focus on how moral judgment and behavior are rooted in the functioning, development, and evolution of the brain. It presents themes that have emerged from studies examining the cognitive processes involved in morality. It shows studies that directly investigate the neural substrates of morality using modern brain imaging techniques. A number of brain regions and systems are identified that appear to be essential for normal moral behavior. The article focuses on two clinical conditions: lesions to the prefrontal cortex and psychopathy. Furthermore, it discusses neuroendocrinology and evolutionary neurobiology—that is relevant to understanding the development of morality and concerns evolutionary history and functions of two neuropeptides, oxytocin and vasopressin, in the mammalian brain and their effects on behavior.

Keywords: morality; neural substrates; cognitive processes; evolutionary neurobiology; neuroendocrinology

Article.  14400 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience ; Clinical Psychology

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