The role of the human prefrontal cortex in social cognition and moral judgment *

Chad E. Forbes, Jordan Grafman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

170 Scopus citations


Results from functional magnetic resonance imaging and lesion studies indicate that the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is essential for successful navigation through a complex social world inundated with intricate norms and moral values. This review examines regions of the PFC that are critical for implicit and explicit social cognitive and moral judgment processing. Considerable overlap between regions active when individuals engage in social cognition or assess moral appropriateness of behaviors is evident, underscoring the similarity between social cognitive and moral judgment processes in general. Findings are interpreted within the framework of structured event complex theory, providing a broad organizing perspective for how activity in PFC neural networks facilitates social cognition and moral judgment. We emphasize the dynamic flexibility in neural circuits involved in both implicit and explicit processing and discuss the likelihood that neural regions thought to uniquely underlie both processes heavily interact in response to different contextual primes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-324
Number of pages26
JournalAnnual Review of Neuroscience
StatePublished - Sep 29 2010



  • frontal lobes
  • implicit and explicit social cognitive and moral judgment processing
  • neural function
  • social cognitive neuroscience
  • structured event complex theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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