The neural correlates of justified and unjustified killing: An fMRI study

Molenberghs, Pascal, Ogilvie, Claudette, Louis, Winnifred R., Decety, Jean, Bagnall, Jessica, & Bain, Paul G. (2015) The neural correlates of justified and unjustified killing: An fMRI study. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10, pp. 1397-1404.

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Abstract

Despite moral prohibitions on hurting other humans, some social contexts allow for harmful actions such as the killing of others. One example is warfare, where killing enemy soldiers is seen as morally justified. Yet, the neural underpinnings distinguishing between justified and unjustified killing are largely unknown. To improve understanding of the neural processes involved in justified and unjustified killing, participants had to imagine being the perpetrator whilst watching “first-person perspective” animated videos where they shot enemy soldiers (‘justified violence’) and innocent civilians (‘unjustified violence’). When participants imagined themselves shooting civilians compared to soldiers, greater activation was found in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Regression analysis revealed that the more guilt participants felt about shooting civilians, the greater the response in the lateral OFC. Effective connectivity analyses further revealed an increased coupling between lateral OFC and the tempoparietal junction (TPJ) when shooting civilians. The results show that the neural mechanisms typically implicated with harming others, such as the OFC, become less active when the violence against a particular group is seen as justified. This study therefore provides unique insight into how normal individuals can become aggressors in specific situations.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 83120
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: morality; intentional harm; violence; conflict; orbitofrontal cortex
DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsv027
ISSN: 1749-5016
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES (170000) > PSYCHOLOGY (170100) > Biological Psychology (Neuropsychology Psychopharmacology Physiological Psychology) (170101)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES (170000) > PSYCHOLOGY (170100) > Social and Community Psychology (170113)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Psychology & Counselling
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2015 The Authors
Deposited On: 08 Apr 2015 23:00
Last Modified: 12 May 2016 04:45

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