Introduction: Moral judgement is an important component of adaptive social behaviour. Harmful actions are usually associated with intense negative emotions and intuitively perceived as morally wrong. On the other hand, if harming someone results in a socially desirable outcome it can be judged as permissible. Utilitarian moral judgement (for example, allowing sacrificing one person's life to save more people) can be viewed as a conflict between intuition and reason (e.g. Greene et al., 2004). In this work we consider the intuitive and rational processes of moral judgement as an integral part of individual behaviour, which is based on the actualization of functional systems described as the dynamic organization of physiological activity in the brain and the rest of the body, which results in achieving an adaptive outcome (Anokhin, 1975; Shvyrkov, 1995; Alexandrov et al., 2000). This approach suggests that the heart is actively involved in the organisation of behaviour, and its activity should reflect the interplay between intuition and reason when making social judgements. In this work we tested a hypothesis that the dynamics of heart activity is different when individuals make utilitarian and non-utilitarian moral judgements. Methods: ECG was recorded in 58 adult participants while they were evaluating permissibility of harmful actions in a set of moral dilemmas, including the traditional Trolley and Footbridge dilemmas. RR-intervals were analysed to describe the dynamics of heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) indexes. HR and HRV indexes were compared using t-test and Mann-Whitney test (significance at p<0.05) in situations when participants responded with utilitarian and non-utilitarian judgements. Results and conclusions: Utilitarian moral judgements were accompanied by shorter RR-intervals, indicating higher HR, than non-utilitarian judgements (see Figure). Lower HR had previously been reported to accompany the feelings of empathy and compassion to suffering others (Stellar et al., 2015). Lower HR in case of non-utilitarian judgements is consistent with the view on the role of negative social emotions, such as harm aversion, in moral judgement (e.g. Crockett et al., 2010). Overall, the results show that the intuitive and rational components of moral judgement are reflected in heart activity.
Arutyunova, K.R. Intuition and reason: activity of the heart during moral judgement / K.R. Arutyunova, A.V. Bakhchina, Y.I. Aleksandrov. // Brain and Neuroscience Advances. – 2019. – № 3. – С. PS013