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Poster A66

The Impact of Potentially Morally Injurious Content on Reasoning and Its Neural Correlates: Data from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)

Poster Session A - Saturday, April 13, 2024, 2:30 – 4:30 pm EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Oshin Vartanian1 (, Anthony Nazarov2, Timothy Lam1, Shawn Rhind1, Maria Shiu1, Elaine Maceda1, Kristen King1, Janani Vallikanthan1, Maitri Lad1, Stacey Silins3, Megan Thompson1; 1Defence Research and Development Canada, 2MacDonald Franklin Operational Stress Injury (OSI) Research Centre, 3Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis

Recently, there has been considerable interest in understanding the causes and consequences of moral injury—defined as significant and enduring psychological, behavioural, social, and spiritual distress in the aftermath of events that involve violations of deeply-held beliefs and expectations about right and wrong. Research on the neurobiology of moral injury has revealed changes in brain function involving regions that underlie emotions, cognitive control, somatosensory processing, and internally-oriented cognition. However, to date, no study has examined the impact of moral injury on reasoning or its neural correlates. We hypothesized that the presence of potentially morally injurious content would impair reasoning compared to otherwise structurally identical arguments with neutral content, and that the former would engage structures associated with memory and/or emotion. We tested this hypothesis by administering arguments that included neutral content or content adapted from items in the Moral Injury Outcome Scale (MIOS) to reference peers, leaders, and/or institutions to a sample of neurologically healthy Canadian Armed Forces members (n = 46) in the fMRI scanner. Compared to neutral items, reasoning was impaired on items with potentially morally injurious content. Furthermore, reasoning about potentially morally injurious content was correlated with greater activation in the parahippocampus, and parahippocampal activation explained 13% of the variance specifically on reasoning trials with potentially morally injurious, but not neutral, content. Given the parahippocampus’ role in processing contextual associations, the results suggest that the presence of potentially morally injurious content may impair reasoning by activating contextual associations that interfere with the reasoning system.

Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Emotion-cognition interactions


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April 13–16  |  2024