The neural mediators of moral attitudes and behaviors

Chenyi Chen, Róger Marcelo Martínez, Yu Chun Chen, Yang Teng Fan, Yawei Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Morality is central for humanity. It has been suggested that our memories of past events involving moral actions contribute to shaping a positive view of the self. Nevertheless, it remains unclear how individual variability in moral attitudes fosters/affects moral behaviors. Here, we used a button-trigger task, where participants mentally simulated themselves as the agents of moral and immoral behaviors (study 1: N = 96). Helping actions appeared to have significantly faster reaction times (RTs) than neutral and harming actions. We also measured the fMRI activity while undergoing such moral actions in another sample (study 2: N = 117). Individual variability among implicit social attitudes (sIAT) predicted quicker RTs for helping actions, and explicit justice sensitivity (JSI) predicted higher warm-glow ratings for helping. Furthermore, the orbitofrontal cortex mediated sIAT–RTs association, while the right temporoparietal junction mediated the JSI–warm-glow linkage. These findings support the dynamic system framework of moral cognition, providing key knowledge on the neural underpinnings regarding individual variability on moral attitudes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113934
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - Jul 26 2022


  • Helping behavior
  • Implicit attitudes
  • Justice sensitivity
  • Morality
  • Warm-glow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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