Moral violations and the experience of disgust and anger

Megan Oaten*, Richard J. Stevenson, Mark A. Williams, Anina N. Rich, Marina Butko, Trevor I. Case

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


Disgust is a natural defensive emotion that has evolved to protect against potential sources of contamination and has been recently linked to moral judgements in many studies. However, that people often report feelings of disgust when thinking about feces or moral transgressions alike does not necessarily mean that the same mechanisms mediate these reactions. The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (n = 22) to investigate whether core and moral disgusts entrain common neural systems. We provide evidence that: (i) activation of overlapping brain regions between core and moral disgust is the result of content overlap in the vignettes—core disgust elicitors—across conditions, and not from moral violations per se, and (ii) moral residue (i.e., the remaining or “residual” activation after the influence of core disgust elicitors have been taken into account) produced a pattern of activation that is more consistent with moral anger, than one of “residual disgust.” These findings run contrary to the premise that our “moral center” is connected to the area of the brain in which physical revulsion is located.

Original languageEnglish
Article number179
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2018. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Anger
  • Disgust
  • fMRI
  • Moral disgust
  • Moral violations


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