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From moral to legal judgment: The influence of normative context in lawyers and other academics

by Stephan Schleim, Tade M. Spranger, Susanne Erk, Henrik Walter
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience ()

Abstract

Various kinds of normative judgments are an integral part of everyday life. We extended the scrutiny of social cognitive neuroscience into the domain of legal decisions, investigating two groups, lawyers and other academics, during moral and legal decision-making. While we found activation of brain areas comprising the so-called 'moral brain' in both conditions, there was stronger activation in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and middle temporal gyrus particularly when subjects made legal decisions, suggesting that these were made in respect to more explicit rules and demanded more complex semantic processing. Comparing both groups, our data show that behaviorally lawyers conceived themselves as emotionally less involved during normative decision-making in general. A group × condition interaction in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex suggests a modulation of normative decision-making by attention based on subjects' normative expertise.

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