Moral Emotions and Their Brain Structural Correlates Across Neurodegenerative Disorders

Sandra Baez, Catalina Trujillo-Llano, Leonardo Cruz De Souza, Patricia Lillo, Gonzalo Forno, Hernando Santamaría-García, Cecilia Okuma, Patricio Alegria, David Huepe, Agustín Ibáñez, Jean Decety, Andrea Slachevsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Although social cognition is compromised in patients with neurodegenerative disorders such as behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) and Alzheimer's disease (AD), research on moral emotions and their neural correlates in these populations is scarce. No previous study has explored the utility of moral emotions, compared to and in combination with classical general cognitive state tools, to discriminate bvFTD from AD patients. Objective: To examine self-conscious (guilt and embarrassment) and other-oriented (pity and indignation) moral emotions, their subjective experience, and their structural brain underpinnings in bvFTD (n = 31) and AD (n = 30) patients, compared to healthy controls (n = 37). We also explored the potential utility of moral emotions measures to discriminate bvFTD from AD. Methods: We used a modified version of the Moral Sentiment Task measuring the participants' accuracy scores and their emotional subjective experiences. Results: bvFTD patients exhibited greater impairments in self-conscious and other-oriented moral emotions as compared with AD patients and healthy controls. Moral emotions combined with general cognitive state tools emerged as useful measures to discriminate bvFTD from AD patients. In bvFTD patients, lower moral emotions scores were associated with lower gray matter volumes in caudate nucleus and inferior and middle temporal gyri. In AD, these scores were associated with lower gray matter volumes in superior and middle frontal gyri, middle temporal gyrus, inferior parietal lobule and supramarginal gyrus. Conclusion: These findings contribute to a better understanding of moral emotion deficits across neurodegenerative disorders, highlighting the potential benefits of integrating this domain into the clinical assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-169
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Alzheimer's Disease
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia
  • moral emotions
  • neural correlates
  • social cognition


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