Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Do abnormal responses show utilitarian bias?

Hay una polemica en la neurociencia moral (el estudio de las bases neuronales de los juicios morales) acerca de si pacientes con lesiones en el area prefrontal ventromedial, son escesivamente utilitarios en sus respuestas ante escenarios con dilemas morales.
Recientemente, en la revista "Nature" el autor del estudio original-Koenigs et al. 2007-donde se proponia esta observacion de respuestas excesivamente utilitaristas en pacientes con lesiones en la corteza prefrontal zona ventromedial, ha mantenido una comunicacion breve con dos filosofos oxonienses,Guy Kahane, y Nicholas Shackel, (este ultimo sigue afiliado al centro Uehiro de Etica Practica de la Universidad de Oxford, pero actualmente esta en el departamente de filosofia de la Universidad de Cardiff) que tras haber estudiado y analizado los criterios metodologicos para crear los casos utlitaristas y deontologicos del estudio original, aducen que no hay razon para creer que finalmente los pacientes con dichas lesiones sean "utilitaristas".

El articulo, con replica y contrareplica, copiado y pegado (perdonad por lo inusual del metodo)es este:

Do abnormal responses show utilitarian bias?
Arising from: M. Koenigs et al. Nature 446, 908–911 (2007)

Neuroscience has recently turned to the study of utilitarian and nonutilitarian
moral judgement. Koenigs et al.1 examine the responses of
normal subjects and those with ventromedial–prefrontal–cortex
(VMPC) damage to moral scenarios drawn from functional magnetic
resonance imaging studies by Greene et al.2–4, and claim that patients
with VMPC damage have an abnormally ‘‘utilitarian’’ pattern of
moral judgement. It is crucial to the claims of Koenigs et al. that
the scenarios of Greene et al. pose a conflict between utilitarian consequence
and duty: however, many of them do not meet this condition.
Because of this methodological problem, it is too early to
claim that VMPC patients have a utilitarian bias.
Greene et al. reported that brain areas typically associated with
affect are activated when subjects make moral judgements about
‘personal’ scenarios, where one alternative requires directly causing
serious harm to persons. They found that in the minority, who judge
such choices to be appropriate, areas associated with cognition and
cognitive conflict are activated as well. On the basis of a later study
reporting similar results in responses to ‘difficult’ personal scenarios,
Greene suggested that the controversies between utilitarian and nonutilitarian
views of morality ‘‘might reflect an underlying tension
between competing subsystems in the brain’’4, a claim taken up by
leading ethicists5.
Koenigs et al. draw on the battery of moral scenarios of Greene et al.
to compare normal subjects with six subjects who have focal bilateral
damage to the VMPC, a brain region associated with the normal
generation of emotions and, in particular, social emotions. They
report that these patients ‘‘produce an abnormally ‘utilitarian’ pattern
of judgements on [personal] moral dilemmas… In contrast, the
VMPC patients’ judgements were normal in other classes of moral
dilemmas’’1. These claims are based on VMPC patients’ pattern of
response to ‘high-conflict’ scenarios, a subset of personal scenarios
on which normal subjects tended to disagree and that elicited greater
response times.
However, the methodology used by Koenigs et al. cannot support
claims about a utilitarian bias. Data from the categorization of the
scenarios by five professional moral philosophers show that many are
not of the required type. Only 45% of their impersonal scenarios
and 48% of the personal ones were classified as involving a choice
between utilitarian and non-utilitarian options. The distinction by
Koenigs et al. between low- and high-conflict scenarios does not
correspond to a difference in the scenarios’ content. The highconflict
scenarios are not all clear cases of utilitarian choice and some
low-conflict ones are very clear cases of such choice: of the 13 highconflict
scenarios, our judges classified only eight as pure cases of
utilitarian versus non-utilitarian choice; conversely, two low-conflict
scenarios were classified as such.
The battery of personal scenarios is therefore not an adequate
measure of utilitarian choice, and the distinction between low and
high conflict reflects only a difference in behavioural response, rather
than consistent differences in the content of the scenarios. Thus it is
too early to claim that VMPC patients have a bias towards utilitarian
judgement. Furthermore, whereas Koenigs et al. found that normal
subjects rated personal scenarios as having significantly higher emotional
salience than impersonal scenarios, they found no such significant
difference between low- and high-conflict scenarios. So their
proposal that an affective deficit explains the VMPC patients’ abnormal
pattern of response to high-conflict scenarios is not clearly true.
Similarly, it is unclear that this pattern of response is due to VMPC
patients following ‘‘explicit social and moral norms’’1, as their
choices in high-conflict scenarios are contrary to familiar social
norms to prevent harm.
In conclusion, to establish that a response pattern manifests a
tendency to utilitarian moral judgement, the stimuli used need to
be classified in terms of content and not by purely behavioural or
emotional criteria as was done here and in other studies such as those
of Greene et al.2,4,6.
Guy Kahane1 & Nicholas Shackel2,3
1Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford, Oxford
OX1 1PT, UK.
2Department of Philosophy, ENCAP, University of Cardiff, Cardiff CF10
3EU, UK.
3Future of Humanity Institute, Faculty of Philosophy & James Martin 21st
Century School, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 1PT, UK.
Received 29 August 2007; accepted 17 January 2008.
1. Koenigs, M. et al. Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral
judgements. Nature 446, 908–911 (2007).
2. Greene, J. D., Sommerville, R. B., Nystrom, L. E., Darley, J. M. & Cohen, J. D. An fMRI
investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment. Science 293, 2105–2108
3. Greene, J. D. & Haidt, J. How (and where) does moral judgment work? Trends Cogn.
Sci. 6, 517–523 (2002).
4. Greene, J. D.,Nystrom, L. E., Engell, A. D., Darley, J. M. & Cohen, J. D. The neural bases
of cognitive conflict and control in moral judgment. Neuron 44, 389–400 (2004).
5. Singer, P. Ethics and intuitions. J. Ethics 9, 331–352 (2005).
6. Ciaramelli, E., Muccioli, M., La`davas, E. & di Pellegrino, G. Selective deficit in personal
moral judgment following damage to ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Social Cogn.
Affect. Neurosci. 2, 84–89 (2007).

Koenigs et al. reply
Replying to: G. Kahane & N. Shackel Nature 452, doi:10.1038/06785 (2008)

Kahane and Shackel argue1, on the basis of a re-classification of the
moral scenarios used in our study2, that our conclusion of a utilitarian
bias among patients with ventromedial–prefrontal–cortex
(VMPC) damage is unwarranted. Here we provide a re-analysis of
our data based on precisely the classification scheme that Kahane and
Shackel suggest. This re-analysis confirms our conclusion that
damage to the VMPC results in an increase in utilitarian judgements.
Kahane and Shackel propose a classification scheme based solely
on assessments of the scenario content. They suggest that utilitarian
responses pertain only to those scenarios that pit ‘‘consequences’’
versus ‘‘duty.’’ We neither endorse nor disagree with this view; both
their and our classification schemes are defensible.
In a re-analysis of our original data on the basis of the classification
scheme suggested by Kahane and Shackel, we find that VMPC
Nature PublishingGroup ©2008
patients generated the ‘‘utilitarian’’ judgement (as defined by Kahane
and Shackel) in a substantially greater proportion than did either
control group (71% by the VMPC group compared to 51% and
49% by the healthy and brain-damaged control groups, respectively;
multinomial logistic regression, P50.012). Furthermore, among the
15 scenarios that present a utilitarian option, there was not one case
where either control group endorsed a greater proportion of ‘‘utilitarian’’
responses than the VMPC group. We should note that this
pattern of greater endorsement by the VMPC group was specific to
the ‘‘consequence versus duty’’ scenarios: for the 9 ‘‘self-interest
versus duty’’ moral scenarios in Kahane and Shackel’s scheme,
VMPC patients endorsed the proposed action in similar proportions
to control groups (6% by theVMPCgroup compared to 2% and 10%
by the healthy and brain-damaged control groups, respectively;
P50.31). Likewise, in all 9 of the ‘‘self-interest versus duty’’ scenarios
in Kahane and Shackel’s scheme, at least one control group
endorsed the proposed action in the same or greater proportion than
did the VMPC group.
Kahane and Shackel also suggest that our results fail to demonstrate
a causal role for emotion in moral judgements, because
low- and high-conflict scenarios do not differ in emotional salience
yet show differential effects of VMPC damage on moral judgements.
Although the harms described in low- and high-conflict scenarios
may be similarly emotionally salient, we reiterate that only in the
high-conflict scenarios do these emotionally salient harms constitute
morally ambiguous actions—in the low-conflict scenarios the emotionally
aversive harms are quickly and unanimously condemned. In
these scenarios, VMPC patients give normal responses, relying, we
propose, on their capacity to use learned social rules, such as rules
against harming others purely for self-interest.
This pattern of findings, together with VMPC patients’ defects
in processing social emotions, makes a causal role for emotion in
moral judgement a plausible interpretation. This interpretation is
consistent with studies showing that independent manipulations of
emotion can influence moral judgement3,4. Furthermore, the main
result from our original study (a selective effect of VMPC damage on
moral judgement) has recently been replicated5. A final piece of data
that is so far missing is concurrent monitoring of psychophysiological
indices of emotion while subjects respond to moral scenarios, a
technically challenging approach given the complex and temporally
extended nature of the stimuli.
In summary, the re-analysis supports our original conclusion that
VMPC patients are abnormally utilitarian in their moral judgement,
regardless of how ‘‘utilitarian’’ is defined. Although we disagree with
Kahane and Shackel about the conclusions of our original study, we
certainly share the view that precise characterizations of distinct
brands of moral judgement will prove fruitful in future studies of
normal and pathological moral cognition6–8.
M. Koenigs1{, L. Young2, R. Adolphs1,3, D. Tranel1, F. Cushman2,
M. Hauser2 & A. Damasio1,4
1Department of Neurology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa
City, Iowa 52242, USA.
2Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge,
Massachusetts 02138, USA.
3Division of Humanities and Social Sciences and Division of Biology,
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA.
4Brain and Creativity Institute and Dornsife Center for Cognitive
Neuroimaging, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
90089, USA.
{Present address: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke,
National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-1440, USA.
1. Kahane, G. & Shackel, N. Do abnormal responses show utilitarian bias? Nature 452,
10.1038/06785 (2008).
2. Koenigs, M. et al. Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral
judgements. Nature 446, 908–911 (2007).
3. Wheatley, T. & Haidt, J. Hypnotic disgust makes moral judgments more severe.
Psychol. Sci. 16, 780–784 (2005).
4. Valdesolo, P. & DeSteno, D. Manipulations of emotional context shape moral
judgment. Psychol. Sci. 17, 476–477 (2006).
5. Ciaramelli, E., Muccioli, M., Ladavas, E. & di Pellegrino, G. Selective deficit in personal
moral judgment following damage to ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Social Cogn.
Affect. Neurosci. 2, 84–92 (2007).
6. Hauser, M. D. Moral Minds: How Nature Designed a Universal Sense of Right and Wrong
(Harper Collins, New York, 2006).
7. Cushman, F. A., Young, L. & Hauser, M. D. The role of conscious reasoning and
intuitions in moral judgment: testing three principles of harm. Psychol. Sci. 17,
1082–1089 (2006).
8. Young, L., Cushman, F., Hauser, M. & Saxe, R. The neural basis of the interaction
between theory of mind and moral judgment. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104,
8235–8240 (2007).
Nature PublishingGroup ©2008


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