Neural systems for guilt from actions affecting self versus others.
Guilt is a core emotion governing social behavior by promoting compliance with social norms or self-imposed standards. The goal of this study was to contrast guilty responses to actions that affect self versus others, since actions with social consequences are hypothesized to yield greater guilty feelings due to adopting the perspective and subjective emotional experience of others. Sixteen participants were presented with brief hypothetical scenarios in which the participant's actions resulted in harmful consequences to self (guilt-self) or to others (guilt-other) during functional MRI. Participants felt more intense guilt for guilt-other than guilt-self and guilt-neutral scenarios. Guilt scenarios revealed distinct regions of activity correlated with intensity of guilt, social consequences of actions, and the interaction of guilt by social consequence. Guilt intensity was associated with activation of the dorsomedial PFC, superior frontal gyrus, supramarginal gyrus, and anterior inferior frontal gyrus. Guilt accompanied by social consequences was associated with greater activation than without social consequences in the ventromedial and dorsomedial PFC, precuneus, posterior cingulate, and posterior superior temporal sulcus. Finally, the interaction analysis highlighted select regions that were more strongly correlated with guilt intensity as a function of social consequence, including the left anterior inferior frontal gyrus, left ventromedial PFC, and left anterior inferior parietal cortex. Our results suggest these regions intensify guilt where harm to others may incur a greater social cost.
Morey, RA; McCarthy, G; Selgrade, ES; Seth, S; Nasser, JD; LaBar, KS
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