A functional neuroimaging investigation of Moral Foundations Theory.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) posits that the human mind contains modules (or "foundations") that are functionally specialized to moralize unique dimensions of the social world: Authority, Loyalty, Purity, Harm, Fairness, and Liberty. Despite this strong claim about cognitive architecture, it is unclear whether neural activity during moral reasoning exhibits this modular structure. Here, we use spatiotemporal partial least squares correlation (PLSC) analyses of fMRI data collected during judgments of foundation-specific violations to investigate whether MFT's cognitive modularity claim extends to the neural level. A mean-centered PLSC analysis returned two latent variables that differentiated between social norm and moral foundation violations, functionally segregated Purity, Loyalty, Physical Harm, and Fairness from the other foundations, and suggested that Authority has a different neural basis than other binding foundations. Non-rotated PLSC analyses confirmed that neural activity distinguished social norm from moral foundation violations, and distinguished individualizing and binding moral foundations if Authority is dropped from the binding foundations. Purity violations were persistently associated with amygdala activity, whereas moral foundation violations more broadly tended to engage the default network. Our results constitute partial evidence for neural modularity and motivate further research on the novel groupings identified by the PLSC analyses.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Khoudary, A; Hanna, E; O'Neill, K; Iyengar, V; Clifford, S; Cabeza, R; De Brigard, F; Sinnott-Armstrong, W

Published Date

  • November 2022

Published In

Start / End Page

  • 1 - 17

PubMed ID

  • 36378272

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1747-0927

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1747-0919

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1080/17470919.2022.2148737


  • eng