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Impairment of social and moral behavior related to early damage in human prefrontal cortex


The long-term consequences of early prefrontal cortex lesions occurring before 16 months were investigated in two adults. As is the case when such damage occurs in adulthood, the two early-onset patients had severely impaired social behavior despite normal basic cognitive abilities, and showed insensitivity to future consequences of decisions, defective autonomic responses to punishment contingencies and failure to respond to behavioral interventions. Unlike adult-onset patients, however, the two patients had defective social and moral reasoning, suggesting that the acquisition of complex social conventions and moral rules had been impaired. Thus early-onset prefrontal damage resulted in a syndrome resembling psychopathy.

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Figure 1: Social and moral reasoning.
Figure 2: Experimental decision-making and psychophysiology.
Figure 3: Neuroanatomical analysis.
Figure 4: Control subjects with adult-onset prefrontal damage.


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Supported by the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke Grant PO1 NS19632 and the Mathers Foundation.

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Correspondence to Antonio R. Damasio.

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Anderson, S., Bechara, A., Damasio, H. et al. Impairment of social and moral behavior related to early damage in human prefrontal cortex. Nat Neurosci 2, 1032–1037 (1999).

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