Impaired Decoding of Fear and Disgust Predicts Utilitarian Moral Judgment in Alcohol-Dependent Individuals
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AuthorCarmona-Perera, Martina; Clark, Luke; Young, Liane; Pérez García, Miguel; Verdejo-García, Antonio
Moral decision-makingUtilitarian judgmentsAlcohol dependent individualsEmotional face recognitionFearDisgust decoding
SponsorshipThis work is supported by the “Red de Trastornos Adictivos”, RETICS Program, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Spanish Ministry of Health (PI: AVG) and the Junta de Andaluc ıa under the Research Project P07.HUM 03089 (PI: MPG). MCP is funded by FPU predoctoral research grant (AP 2008-01848) from Spanish Ministry of Education and Science.
Background: Recent studies of moral reasoning in patients with alcohol use disorders have indicated a “utilitarian” bias, whereby patients are more likely to endorse emotionally aversive actions in favor of aggregate welfare (e.g., throwing a dying person into the sea to keep a lifeboat of survivors afloat). Here, we investigate the underlying psychological and neuropsychological processes. Methods: Alcohol-dependent individuals (n = 31) and healthy comparison participants (n = 34) completed a validated moral judgment task, as well as measures of impulsivity, mood symptoms (anxiety and depression), and emotional face recognition. Results: Alcohol-dependent individuals were more likely to endorse utilitarian choices in personal moral dilemmas compared with controls and rated these choices as less difficult to make. Hierarchical regression models showed that poorer decoding of fear and disgust significantly predicted utilitarian biases in personal moral dilemmas, over and above alcohol consumption. Impulsivity and mood symptoms did not predict moral decisions. Conclusions: These findings suggest that impaired fear and disgust decoding contributes to utilitarian moral decision-making in alcohol-dependent individuals.