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PLOS ONE  2011 

Serotonin Transporter Genotype (5-HTTLPR) Predicts Utilitarian Moral Judgments

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025148

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Abstract:

Background The psychological and neurobiological processes underlying moral judgment have been the focus of extensive recent research. Here we show that serotonin transporter (5-HTTLPR) genotype predicts responses to moral dilemmas featuring foreseen harm to an innocent. Methodology/Principal Findings Participants in this study judged the acceptability of actions that would unintentionally or intentionally harm an innocent victim in order to save others' lives. An analysis of variance revealed a genotype × scenario interaction, F(2, 63) = 4.52, p = .02. Results showed that, relative to long allele homozygotes (LL), carriers of the short (S) allele showed particular reluctance to endorse utilitarian actions resulting in foreseen harm to an innocent individual. LL genotype participants rated perpetrating unintentional harm as more acceptable (M = 4.98, SEM = 0.20) than did SL genotype participants (M = 4.65, SEM = 0.20) or SS genotype participants (M = 4.29, SEM = 0.30). No group differences in moral judgments were observed in response to scenarios featuring intentional harm. Conclusions/Significance The results indicate that inherited variants in a genetic polymorphism that influences serotonin neurotransmission influence utilitarian moral judgments as well. This finding is interpreted in light of evidence that the S allele is associated with elevated emotional responsiveness.

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