Spilling the beans, a new study has identified how your brain decides blame and punishment and shows how it can be changed.
Juries in criminal cases typically decide if someone is guilty, then a judge determines a suitable level of punishment. New research confirms that these two separate assessments of guilt and punishment – though related are calculated in different parts of the brain. In fact, researchers found that they can disrupt and change one decision without affecting the other.
The Vanderbilt University and Harvard University study confirms that a specific area of the brain, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, is crucial to punishment decisions.
Researchers predicted and found that by altering brain activity in this brain area, they could change how subjects punished hypothetical defendants without changing the amount of blame placed on the defendants.
Co-principal author Rene Marois said that they were able to significantly change the chain of decision-making and reduce punishment for crimes without affecting blameworthiness.
Marois added that this strengthens evidence that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex integrates information from other parts of the brain to determine punishment and shows a clear neural dissociation between punishment decisions and moral responsibility judgements.
The research is published in the journal Neuron.