Brain Imaging and Behavior

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 278–292 | Cite as

Neural foundation of human moral reasoning: an ALE meta-analysis about the role of personal perspective

  • M. Boccia
  • C. Dacquino
  • L. Piccardi
  • P. Cordellieri
  • C. Guariglia
  • F. Ferlazzo
  • S. Ferracuti
  • A. M. Giannini
Review Article


Moral sense is defined as a feeling of the rightness or wrongness of an action that knowingly causes harm to people other than the agent. The large amount of data collected over the past decade allows drawing some definite conclusions about the neurobiological foundations of moral reasoning as well as a systematic investigation of methodological variables during fMRI studies. Here, we verified the existence of converging and consistent evidence in the current literature by means of a meta-analysis of fMRI studies of moral reasoning, using activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis. We also tested for a possible neural segregation as function of the perspective used during moral reasoning i.e., first or third person perspectives. Results demonstrate the existence of a wide network of areas underpinning moral reasoning, including orbitofrontal cortex, insula, amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex as well as precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex. Within this network we found a neural segregation as a function of the personal perspective, with 1PP eliciting higher activation in the bilateral insula and superior temporal gyrus as well as in the anterior cingulate cortex, lingual and fusiform gyri, middle temporal gyrus and precentral gyrus in the left hemisphere, and 3PP eliciting higher activation in the bilateral amygdala, the posterior cingulate cortex, insula and supramarginal gyrus in the left hemisphere as well as the medial and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in the right hemisphere. These results shed some more light on the contribution of these areas to moral reasoning, strongly supporting a functional specialization as a function of the perspective used during moral reasoning.


Moral judgment ALE meta-analysis Moral dilemmas Moral justice Moral sense First person perspective Third person perspective 


Compliance with ethical standards

Human and animal rights and informed consent

No animal or human studies were carried out by the authors for this article and data from previous studies were collected using PubMed database.

Conflict of interest

Maddalena Boccia, Claudia Dacquino, Laura Piccardi, Pierluigi Cordellieri, Cecilia Guariglia, Fabio Ferlazzo, Stefano Ferracuti and Anna Maria Giannini declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Boccia
    • 1
    • 2
  • C. Dacquino
    • 3
  • L. Piccardi
    • 2
    • 4
  • P. Cordellieri
    • 1
  • C. Guariglia
    • 1
    • 2
  • F. Ferlazzo
    • 1
  • S. Ferracuti
    • 5
  • A. M. Giannini
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology“Sapienza” UniversityRomeItaly
  2. 2.Neuropsychology UnitIRCCS Fondazione Santa LuciaRomeItaly
  3. 3.Department of Anatomical, Histological, Forensic and Orthopaedic Sciences“Sapienza” UniversityRomeItaly
  4. 4.Department of Life, Health and Environmental SciencesL’Aquila UniversityL’AquilaItaly
  5. 5.NESMOS Department“Sapienza” UniversityRomeItaly

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