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Fault trumps gruesome evidence when it comes to punishment
Date:8/3/2014

Issues of crime and punishment, vengeance and justice date back to the dawn of human history, but it is only in the last few years that scientists have begun exploring the basic nature of the complex neural processes in the brain that underlie these fundamental behaviors.

Now a new brain imaging study published online Aug. 3 by the journal Nature Neuroscience has identified the brain mechanisms that underlie our judgment of how severely a person who has harmed another should be punished. Specifically, the study determined how the area of the brain that determines whether such an act was intentional or unintentional trumps the emotional urge to punish the person, however gruesome the harm may be.

"A fundamental aspect of the human experience is the desire to punish harmful acts, even when the victim is a perfect stranger. Equally important, however, is our ability to put the brakes on this impulse when we realize the harm was done unintentionally," said Rene Marois, the Vanderbilt University professor of psychology who headed the research team. "This study helps us begin to elucidate the neural circuitry that permits this type of regulation."

In the experiment, the brains of 30 volunteers (20 male, 10 female, average age 23 years) were imaged using functional MRI (fMRI) while they read a series of brief scenarios that described how the actions of a protagonist named John brought harm to either Steve or Mary. The scenarios depicted four different levels of harm: death, maiming, physical assault and property damage. In half of them, the harm was clearly identified as intentional and in half it was clearly identified as unintentional.

Two versions of each scenario were created: one with a factual description of the harm and the other with a graphic description. For example, in a mountain climbing scenario where John cuts Steve's rope, the factual version states, "Steve falls 100 feet to the ground below. Steve ex
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Contact: David Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert  

Page: 1 2 3

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Fault trumps gruesome evidence when it comes to punishment
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