Feelings of guilt are associated with widespread self and social cognitions, e.g., empathy, moral reasoning, and punishment. Neural correlates directly related to the degree of feelings of guilt have not been detected, probably due to the small numbers of subjects, whereas there are growing numbers of neuroimaging studies of feelings of guilt. We hypothesized that the neural networks for guilty feelings are widespread and include the insula, inferior parietal lobule (IPL), amygdala, subgenual cingulate cortex (SCC), and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which are essential for cognitions of guilt. We investigated the association between regional gray matter density (rGMD) and feelings of guilt in 764 healthy young students (422 males, 342 females; 20.7. ±. 1.8. years) using magnetic resonance imaging and the guilty feeling scale (GFS) for the younger generation which comprises interpersonal situation (IPS) and rule-breaking situation (RBS) scores. Both the IPS and RBS were negatively related to the rGMD in the right posterior insula (PI). The IPS scores were negatively correlated with rGMD in the left anterior insula (AI), right IPL, and vmPFC using small volume correction. A post hoc analysis performed on the significant clusters identified through these analyses revealed that rGMD activity in the right IPL showed a significant negative association with the empathy quotient. These findings at the whole-brain level are the widespread comprehensive neural network regions for guilty feelings. Interestingly, the novel finding in this study is that the PI was implicated as a common region for feelings of guilt with interaction between the IPS and RBS. Additionally, the neural networks including the IPL were associated with empathy and with regions implicated in moral reasoning (AI and vmPFC), and punishment (AI).
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