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Somatic Marker Production Deficits Do Not Explain the Relationship between Psychopathic Traits and Utilitarian Moral Decision Making

1
Indiana University Bloomington, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA
2
The Graduate Center, City University of New York, New York, NY 10016, USA
3
Illinois School of Professional Psychology (ISPP) at National Louis University, Chicago, IL 60603, USA
4
Brooklyn College, City University of New York, Brooklyn, NY 11210, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Brain Sci. 2020, 10(5), 303; https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10050303
Received: 31 March 2020 / Revised: 11 May 2020 / Accepted: 14 May 2020 / Published: 15 May 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue CNS-Arousal—Transdiagnostic Relevance and Therapeutic Implications)
In moral dilemma tasks, high levels of psychopathic traits often predict increased utilitarian responding—specifically, endorsing sacrificing one person to save many. Research suggests that increased arousal (i.e., somatic marker production) underlies lower rates of utilitarian responding during moral dilemmas. Though deficient somatic marker production is characteristic of psychopathy, how this deficit affects the psychopathy–utilitarian connection remains unknown. We assessed psychopathic traits in undergraduates, as well as behavioral performance and skin conductance level reactivity (SCL-R; a measure of somatic marker production) during a moral dilemma task. High psychopathic traits and low SCL-R were associated with increased utilitarian decisions in dilemmas involving direct personal harm. Psychopathic traits were unrelated to SCL-R, nor did SCL-R mediate the relationship between psychopathy and utilitarianism. The present study did not find evidence that somatic marker production explains the connection between utilitarianism and psychopathy in a college population. Further research is necessary to identify the neural mechanisms relating psychopathy and moral decision-making in nonclinical samples. View Full-Text
Keywords: moral decision-making; utilitarianism; somatic marker hypothesis; psychopathy; harm aversion moral decision-making; utilitarianism; somatic marker hypothesis; psychopathy; harm aversion
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Fagan, S.E.; Kofler, L.; Riccio, S.; Gao, Y. Somatic Marker Production Deficits Do Not Explain the Relationship between Psychopathic Traits and Utilitarian Moral Decision Making. Brain Sci. 2020, 10, 303.

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