Do Socio-Cultural Factors Influence on Moral Judgment at the Neural Level?

Hyemin Han
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We conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment to examine cultural influences on moral decision making processes at the neural level. The present study compared the neural correlates of moral judgment between Korean and American participants. A total of sixteen (8 Korean and 8 American participants) healthy adult participants were recruited, and they were scanned using a whole-body 3T MRI scanner. For moral dilemmas, the present study utilized Greene et al.’s moral-personal and moral-impersonal dilemmas. The result showed some significant cross-cultural differences. First, under the moral-personal condition, Korean participants showed significantly stronger activity in the right putamen and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. On the other hand, American participants showed significantly stronger activity in the bilateral anterior cingulate cortex. Second, in case of the moral-impersonal condition, the result of the statistical analysis reported that neural activity in the right postcentral sulcus among Korean participants was significantly stronger than that among American participants. Meanwhile, the left frontopolar cortex showed significantly stronger activity among American participants compared with Korean participants. In addition to the results of these whole-brain comparisons, we analyzed correlations between participants’ self-reported socio-cultural perspective score and neural activity. Given the finding of the present study, we shall conclude that socio-cultural factors significantly influence on moral judgment and moral development at the neural level. However, due to its small number of recruited participants, the statistical power and generalizability of the finding of the present study would be limited, so future cross-cultural neuroimaging studies of moral functioning should be conducted.