Negative emotionality downregulation affects moral choice but not moral judgement of harm: a pharmacological study

Roger Marcelo Martinez, Shih Han Chou, Yang Teng Fan, Yu Chun Chen, Kah Kheng Goh, Chenyi Chen

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Previous neuroscientific research has expounded on the fundamental role played by emotion during moral decision-making. Negative emotionality has been observed to exert a general inhibitory effect towards harmful behaviors against others. Nevertheless, the downregulation of negative affects at different levels of moral processing (e.g. impersonal versus personal moral dilemmas) alongside its possible interactions with other factors (e.g. perspective taking) hasn’t been directly assessed; both of which can assist in predicting future moral decision-making. In the present research, we empirically test (Study 1, N = 41) whether downregulating negative emotionality through pharmacological interventions using lorazepam (a GABA receptor agonist), modulate the permissibility of harm to others –i.e. if participants find it more morally permissible to harm others when harm is unavoidable (inevitable harm moral dilemmas), than when it may be avoided (evitable harm moral dilemmas). Furthermore, using another sample (Study 2, N = 31), we assess whether lorazepam’s effect is modulated by different perspective-taking conditions during a moral dilemma task –e.g. “is it morally permissible for you to […]?” (1st person perspective), relative to “is it morally permissible for [x individual] to […]?” (3rd person perspective)–, where the outcome of the different scenarios is controlled. The results of both studies converge, revealing an emotion-dependent, rather than an outcome-dependent, pharmacological modulation. Lorazepam only influenced interpersonal moral judgments when not modulated by the evitable/inevitable condition. Furthermore, there was a significant interaction between perspective-taking and drug administration, as lorazepam exerted a larger effect in modulating moral choices rather than moral judgements.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1200
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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