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Some Interesting Studies: PTSD and Moral Decision Making

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Is PTSD a real diagnosis? Can damage to the brain impair moral decision making? Two new studies examining these topics are worth reading.

The first study by researchers at Harvard Medical School titled Is PTSD Caused by Traumatic Sress? suggests that for many folks there is no link between traumatic events and PTSD. The question that naturally flows from this is whether PTSD is being over-diagnosed.

The next study, titled Damage to the Prefrontal Cortex Increases Utilitarian Moral Judgements appears in the journal Nature and examines damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (sorry, no easy link for description) and moral decision making.

Update: Mind Hacks has some good comments on the PTSD study.

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The proposition contained in the title of the second article doesn't fit with the prevailing thought.

Characterization of the decision-making deficit of patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortex lesions, Brain, Vol. 123, No. 11, 2189-2202, November 2000
Oxford University Press
On a gambling task that models real-life decisions, patients with bilateral lesions of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VM) opt for choices that yield high immediate gains in spite of higher future losses. In this study, we addressed three possibilities that may account for this behaviour: (i) hypersensitivity to reward; (ii) insensitivity to punishment; and (iii) insensitivity to future consequences, such that behaviour is always guided by immediate prospects.

See also A. N. Hampton, P. Bossaerts, and J. P. O'Doherty
The Role of the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex in Abstract State-Based Inference during Decision Making in Humans.
J. Neurosci., August 9, 2006; 26(32): 8360 - 8367.

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