Recently published on SSRN (and in Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 36, 9420-9434):
RICHARD J. BONNIE, University of Virginia - School of Law
MORRIS B. HOFFMAN, Second Judicial District Court Judge, State of Colorado
FRANCIS X. SHEN, University of Minnesota Law School
KENNETH W. SIMONS, University of California, Irvine School of Law, Boston University - School of Law
OWEN D. JONES, Vanderbilt University - Law School & Dept. of Biological Sciences
RENE MAROIS, Vanderbilt University - Department of Psychology Center for Integrative and Cognitive Neuroscience
Using a brain-scanning technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we implemented a novel experimental design to functionally dissociate the mechanisms underlying evaluation, integration, and decision. This work revealed that multiple parts of the brain – some analytic, some subconscious or emotional – work in a systematic pattern to decide blameworthiness, assess harms, integrate those two decisions, and then ultimately select how a person should be punished. Specifically, harm and mental state evaluations are conducted in two different brain networks and then combined in the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate areas of the brain, while the amygdala acts as a pivotal hub of the interaction between harm and mental state. This integrated information is then used by the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex when the brain is making a decision on punishment amount.
These findings provide a blueprint of the brain mechanisms by which neutral third parties make punishment decisions.