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Dissociable Effects of Serotonin and Dopamine on the Valuation of Harm in Moral Decision Making

Crockett, MJ; Siegel, JZ; Kurth-Nelson, Z; Ousdal, OT; Story, G; Frieband, C; Grosse-Rueskamp, JM; ... Dolan, RJ; + view all (2015) Dissociable Effects of Serotonin and Dopamine on the Valuation of Harm in Moral Decision Making. Current Biology , 25 (14) pp. 1852-1859. 10.1016/j.cub.2015.05.021. Green open access

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Abstract

An aversion to harming others is a core component of human morality and is disturbed in antisocial behavior. Deficient harm aversion may underlie instrumental and reactive aggression, which both feature in psychopathy. Past work has highlighted monoaminergic influences on aggression, but a mechanistic account of how monoamines regulate antisocial motives remains elusive. We previously observed that most people show a greater aversion to inflicting pain on others than themselves. Here, we investigated whether this hyperaltruistic disposition is susceptible to monoaminergic control. We observed dissociable effects of the serotonin reuptake inhibitor citalopram and the dopamine precursor levodopa on decisions to inflict pain on oneself and others for financial gain. Computational models of choice behavior showed that citalopram increased harm aversion for both self and others, while levodopa reduced hyperaltruism. The effects of citalopram were stronger than those of levodopa. Crucially, neither drug influenced the physical perception of pain or other components of choice such as motor impulsivity or loss aversion, suggesting a direct and specific influence of serotonin and dopamine on the valuation of harm. We also found evidence for dose dependency of these effects. Finally, the drugs had dissociable effects on response times, with citalopram enhancing behavioral inhibition and levodopa reducing slowing related to being responsible for another's fate. These distinct roles of serotonin and dopamine in modulating moral behavior have implications for potential treatments of social dysfunction that is a common feature as well as a risk factor for many psychiatric disorders.

Type: Article
Title: Dissociable Effects of Serotonin and Dopamine on the Valuation of Harm in Moral Decision Making
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.05.021
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.05.021
Language: English
Additional information: This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Division of Psychiatry
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology > Imaging Neuroscience
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1473074
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