Daytime REM sleep affects emotional experience but not decision choices in moral dilemmas

Nicola Cellini, Lorella Lotto, Carolina Pletti, Michela Sarlo

Moral decision-making depends on the interaction between automatic emotional responses and rational cognitive control. A natural emotional regulator state seems to be sleep, in particular rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. We tested the impact of daytime sleep, either with or without REM, on moral decision. Sixty participants were presented with 12 sacrificial (6 Footbridge- and 6 Trolley-type) and 8 everyday-type moral dilemmas at 9 AM and at 5 PM. In sacrificial dilemmas, participants had to decide whether or not to kill one person to save more people (utilitarian choice), and to judge how morally acceptable the proposed choice was. In everyday-type dilemmas, participants had to decide whether to endorse moral violations involving dishonest behavior. At 12 PM, 40 participants took a 120-min nap (17 with REM and 23 with NREM only) while 20 participants remained awake. Mixed-model analysis revealed that participants judged the utilitarian choice as less morally acceptable in the afternoon, irrespective of sleep. We also observed a negative association between theta activity during REM and increased self-rated unpleasantness during moral decisions. Nevertheless, moral decision did not change across the day and between groups. These results suggest that although both time and REM sleep may affect the evaluation of a moral situation, these factors did not ultimately impact the individual moral choices.

External organisation(s)
Università degli Studi di Padova
Scientific Reports
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Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
501006 Experimental psychology
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