Right or Wrong? The Brain's Fast Response to Morally Objectionable Statements

Jos J. A. Van Berkum, Bregje Holleman, Mante Nieuwland, Marte Otten, Jaap Murre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How does the brain respond to statements that clash with a person's value system? We recorded event-related brain potentials while respondents from contrasting political-ethical backgrounds completed an attitude survey on drugs, medical ethics, social conduct, and other issues. Our results show that value-based disagreement is unlocked by language extremely rapidly, within 200 to 250 ms after the first word that indicates a clash with the reader's value system (e.g., "I think euthanasia is an acceptable/unacceptable..."). Furthermore, strong disagreement rapidly influences the ongoing analysis of meaning, which indicates that even very early processes in language comprehension are sensitive to a person's value system. Our results testify to rapid reciprocal links between neural systems for language and for valuation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1092-1099
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2009

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