Anticipation of guilt for everyday moral transgressions: The role of the anterior insula and the influence of interpersonal psychopathic traits

Ana Seara-Cardoso, Catherine L. Sebastian, Eamon J McCrory, Lucy Foulkes, Marine Buon, Jonathan P Roiser, Essi Viding

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Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterised by atypical moral behaviour, likely rooted in atypical affective/motivational processing, as opposed to an inability to judge the wrongness of an action. Guilt is a moral emotion believed to play a crucial role in adherence to moral and social norms, but the mechanisms by which guilt (or lack thereof) may influence behaviour in individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are unclear. We measured neural responses during the anticipation of guilt about committing potential everyday moral transgressions, and tested the extent to which these varied with psychopathic traits. We found a significant interaction between the degree to which anticipated guilt activated the anterior insula and interpersonal psychopathic traits: anterior insula response was more weakly modulated by anticipated guilt in individuals with higher levels of these traits. Data from a second sample confirmed that this pattern of findings was specific to the modulation of anticipated guilt and not related to the perceived wrongness of the transgression. These results suggest a central role for the anterior insula in coding the anticipation of guilt regarding potential moral transgressions and advance our understanding of the neurocognitive mechanisms that may underlie propensity to antisocial behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Article number36273
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2016

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