Activation of brain areas concerned with social cognition during moral decisions is abnormal in schizophrenia patients and unaffected siblings

Delfina de Achával, Mirta F. Villarreal, Arleen Salles, M. Julia Bertomeu, Elsa Y. Costanzo, Micaela Goldschmidt, Mariana N. Castro, Iris van der Poel, Charles B. Nemeroff, Salvador M. Guinjoan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Moral decision-making involves complex social cognitive processes which are known to be altered in patients with schizophrenia and first-degree relatives. Traditional philosophical views on human moral behavior have distinguished between utilitarian views (which emphasize outcomes) and deontological approaches (defining what is right to do according to certain norms). Since emotions have been suggested to play a determining role in moral behavior, we hypothesized patients with schizophrenia and unaffected siblings would make more utilitarian choices and show faulty activation of brain areas concerned with emotion regulation during such tasks. Unexpectedly, all participants (. n = 13 per group) made the same proportion of utilitarian and deontological decisions. Brain activation common to all groups induced by moral decisions included two circumscribed portions of right ventromedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, adding to previous evidence on a right prosencephalic cognitive network involved in ethical decisions. However, brain activation induced by moral decisions was different in healthy persons, schizophrenia patients, and nonpsychotic siblings in regards to areas directly concerned with emotion processing. These results seem to underscore the role of acquired norms in moral decisions, a frequently overlooked concept in the neurobiological characterization of human ethical behavior, and add to previous evidence of abnormal social cognitive processing in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)774-782
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • Emotion
  • FMRI
  • Moral
  • Schizophrenia
  • Siblings
  • Ventromedial prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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