Neural and Cognitive Signatures of Guilt Predict Hypocritical Blame

Hongbo Yu, Luis Sebastian Contreras-Huerta, Annayah M.B. Prosser, Matthew A.J. Apps, Wilhelm Hofmann, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Molly J. Crockett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


A common form of moral hypocrisy occurs when people blame others for moral violations that they themselves commit. It is assumed that hypocritical blamers act in this manner to falsely signal that they hold moral standards that they do not really accept. We tested this assumption by investigating the neurocognitive processes of hypocritical blamers during moral decision-making. Participants (62 adult UK residents; 27 males) underwent functional MRI scanning while deciding whether to profit by inflicting pain on others and then judged the blameworthiness of others’ identical decisions. Observers (188 adult U.S. residents; 125 males) judged participants who blamed others for making the same harmful choice to be hypocritical, immoral, and untrustworthy. However, analyzing hypocritical blamers’ behaviors and neural responses shows that hypocritical blame was positively correlated with conflicted feelings, neural responses to moral standards, and guilt-related neural responses. These findings demonstrate that hypocritical blamers may hold the moral standards that they apply to others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1909-1927
Number of pages19
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • blame
  • conflicted feeling
  • guilt
  • lateral prefrontal cortex
  • moral hypocrisy
  • open materials


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