Salience network engagement with the detection of morally laden information
Spreng, R. Nathan
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Moral cognition is associated with activation of the default network, regions implicated in mentalizing about one's own actions or the intentions of others. Yet little is known about the initial detection of moral information. We examined the neural correlates of moral processing during a narrative completion task, which included an implicit moral salience manipulation. During fMRI scanning, participants read a brief vignette and selected the most semantically congruent sentence from two options to complete the narrative. The options were immoral, moral or neutral statements. RT was fastest for the selection of neutral statements and slowest for immoral statements. Neuroimaging analyses revealed that responses involving morally laden content engaged default and executive control network brain regions including medial and rostral prefrontal cortex, and core regions of the salience network, including anterior insula and dorsal anterior cingulate. Immoral moral conditions additionally engaged the salience network. These results implicate the salience network in the detection of moral information, which may modulate downstream default and frontal control network interactions in the service of complex moral reasoning and decision-making processes. These findings suggest that moral cognition involves both bottom-up and top-down attentional processes, mediated by discrete large-scale brain networks and their interactions.
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