Brain stimulation influences honest behavior

April 10, 2017
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Researchers at the University of Zurich have identified the brain mechanism that governs decisions between honesty and self-interest. Using non-invasive brain stimulation, they could even increase honest behavior.

Honesty plays a key role in social and economic life. Without honesty, promises are not kept, contracts are not enforced, taxes remain unpaid. Despite the importance of honesty for society, its remains poorly understood. Researchers at the University of Zurich, together with colleagues from Chicago and Boston, now show that honest behavior can be increased by means of non-invasive . The results of their research highlight a deliberation process between honesty and self-interest in the right (rDLPFC).

Occasional lies for material self interest

In their die-rolling experiment, the participants could increase their earnings by cheating rather than telling the truth (see box below). The researchers found that people cheated a significant amount of the time. However, many participants also stuck to the truth. "Most people seem to weigh motives of self-interest against honesty on a case-by-case basis; they cheat a little but not on every possible occasion." explains Michel Maréchal, UZH Professor for Experimental Economics. However, about 8% of the participants cheated in whenever possible and maximized their profit.

Less lies through brain stimulation

The researchers applied transcranial direct current stimulation over a region in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC). This noninvasive brain stimulation method makes brain cells more sensitive i.e., they are more likely to be active. When the researchers applied this stimulation during the task, participants were less likely to cheat. However, the number of consistent cheaters remained the same. Christian Ruff, UZH Professor of Neuroeconomics, points out "This finding suggests that the stimulation mainly reduced cheating in participants who actually experienced a moral conflict, but did not influence the decision making process in those not in those who were committed to maximizing their earnings".

Conflict between money and morals

The researchers found that the stimulation only affected the process of weighing up material versus moral motives. They found no effects for other types of conflict that do not involve moral concerns (i.e., financial decisions involving risk, ambiguity, and delayed rewards). Similarly, an additional experiment showed that the stimulation did not affect honest behavior when cheating led to a payoff for another person instead of oneself and the conflict was therefore between two moral motives. The pattern of results suggests that the stimulated neurobiological process specifically resolves trade-offs between material self-interest and honesty.

Developing an understanding of the biological basis of behavior

According to the researchers, these findings are an important first step in identifying the brain processes that allow people to behave honestly. "These processes could lie at the heart of individual differences and possibly pathologies of honest behavior", explains Christian Ruff. And finally, the new results raise the question to what degree honest is based on biological predispositions, which may be crucial for jurisdiction. Michel Maréchal summarizes: "If breaches of indeed represent an organic condition, our results question to what extent people can be made fully liable for their wrongdoings."

Explore further: Brain technique improves cognitive control

More information: Michel André Maréchal, Alain Cohn, Giuseppe Ugazio, and Christian C. Ruff. Increasing honesty in humans with noninvasive brain stimulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. April 10, 2017. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1614912114

Related Stories

Brain technique improves cognitive control

December 16, 2016
A cutting edge, non-invasive brain stimulation technique could improve cognitive control for people with conditions such as schizophrenia and autism.

Team finds possible neurobiological basis for tradeoff between honesty, self-interest

September 2, 2014
What's the price of your integrity? Tell the truth; everyone has a tipping point. We all want to be honest, but at some point, we'll lie if the benefit is great enough. Now, scientists have confirmed the area of the brain ...

Brain stimulation affects compliance with social norms

October 3, 2013
Neuroeconomists at the University of Zurich have identified a specific brain region that controls compliance with social norms. They discovered that norm compliance is independent of knowledge about the norm and can be increased ...

Selfish behavior lowers levels of happiness

April 29, 2016
Cheating to get ahead is likely to reduce your level of happiness. That's according to a new study by University of California, Riverside sociology professor Jan E. Stets. The study, titled "Happiness and Identities," was ...

Could electrical stimulation to the brain help with weight loss? Study shows promise

November 5, 2015
Giving a region of the brain that's key to self-control and motivation a zetz of electrical stimulation may help the obese to eat less and lose more weight, says a new study.

Recommended for you

Navigational view of the brain thanks to powerful X-rays

October 18, 2017
If brain imaging could be compared to Google Earth, neuroscientists would already have a pretty good "satellite view" of the brain, and a great "street view" of neuron details. But navigating how the brain computes is arguably ...

'Wasabi receptor' for pain discovered in flatworms

October 18, 2017
A Northwestern University research team has discovered how scalding heat and tissue injury activate an ancient "pain" receptor in simple animals. The findings could lead to new strategies for analgesic drug design for the ...

Scientists may have found a cause of dyslexia

October 18, 2017
A duo of French scientists said Wednesday they may have found a physiological, and seemingly treatable, cause for dyslexia hidden in tiny light-receptor cells in the human eye.

Team finds training exercise that boosts brain power

October 17, 2017
One of the two brain-training methods most scientists use in research is significantly better in improving memory and attention, Johns Hopkins University researchers found. It also results in more significant changes in brain ...

Worms learn to smell danger

October 17, 2017
Worms can learn. And the ways they learn and respond to danger could lead scientists to new treatments for people with neurodegenerative diseases.

'Busybody' protein may get on your nerves, but that's a good thing

October 17, 2017
Sensory neurons regulate how we recognize pain, touch, and the movement and position of our own bodies, but the field of neuroscience is just beginning to unravel this circuitry. Now, new research from the Salk Institute ...

8 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

MobettaJenkum
1 / 5 (2) Apr 10, 2017
We must sign up all black-peoples and Mexicans for this treatment RIGHT NOW!
...and ALSO them white career-politicians... on BOTH sides, but mostly the Dem0nrats...
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Apr 10, 2017
"This quality of the mind of the psychopath has been extensively tested with word association tests while the subjects are hooked up to an EEG... Words that have emotional content [normally] evoke larger brain responses... Psychopaths respond to all emotional words as if they were neutral... women and men have noted the particular stare of the psychopath - it is an intense, relentless gaze that seems to preclude his destruction of his victim or target. Women, in particular, have reported this stare, which is related to the "predatorial" (reptilian) gaze... Another extremely interesting study had to do with the way psychopaths move their hands when they speak..."

-Evidence mounts that the disease is a profound disruption of brain function. Is there any doubt that we will soon be able to detect it dependably? Is there any doubt that once we begin identifying psychopaths we will of necessity begin to restrict what they can do?
Dingbone
Apr 10, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
KBK
1 / 5 (1) Apr 10, 2017
"taxes remain unpaid"

Until the entire Geo-poltical cooperate governance thing (called hidden oligarchical fascism) is gotten rid of, taxes are nothing short of enforced slavery and parasitism.

Democracy is an illusion. There is no person alive or in any form of living memory, that has ever experienced democracy.

Its a clearly known and obvious corporate oligarchy, and fascist in nature, bloated with insane reverse meaning propaganda and complex psychological intrigues, run by cunning and vicious parasites. Who enforce it's continuance through open... and black channels.. with extreme force, if necessary.

The dull minded public, the herd somatics - are so easy to hypnotize. Like a zombie army holding their own prison doors shut.

So take your 'pay your taxes' shit message and shove it up your obviously loose and cavernous Ignorance.
somefingguy
1 / 5 (2) Apr 11, 2017
-Evidence mounts that the disease is a profound disruption of brain function. Is there any doubt that we will soon be able to detect it dependably? Is there any doubt that once we begin identifying psychopaths we will of necessity begin to restrict what they can do?


You are so stupid, it amazes me. If more people were psychopaths, the better the world would be. The advances in science we would have if emotional idiots didn't scream unethical behavior at every single turn, would be unimaginable. There is a reason that psychopaths are excellent at the occupations that imbeciles like you could never attain; objective thinking. Emotions are an ugly by-product of our species' brain; and if more and more people with psychopathy were born, the world would, albeit objectively, be a way better place.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2017
if more and more people with psychopathy were born, the world would, albeit objectively, be a way better place
"One psychopath interviewed by Hare's team said quite frankly: "The first thing I do is I size you up. I look for an angle, an edge, figure out what you need and give it to you. Then it's pay-back time, with interest. I tighten the screws." Another psychopath admitted that he never targeted attractive women - he was only interested in those who were insecure and lonely. He claimed he could smell a needy person "the way a pig smells truffles.""

-Sounds like youre the particular sort of defective who enjoys being victimized. Or maybe youre an ugly woman, one or the other.
somefingguy
1 / 5 (2) Apr 11, 2017


-Sounds like youre the particular sort of defective who enjoys being victimized. Or maybe youre an ugly woman, one or the other.


Ah, quoting something completely arbitrary with no references, thinking one example summarizes the whole of one particular group. I won't even bother telling you why the "study", or whatever it is the fuck you're quoting, is pretty flawed in itself.
Keep the bullshit coming though, it's entertaining.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Apr 13, 2017
Ah, quoting something completely arbitrary with no references, thinking one example summarizes the whole of one particular group
Sometimes noobs dont know that quotes can be googled and that this can be more useful than links.

And sometimes noobs are just too lazy to look.
why the "study", or whatever it is the fuck you're quoting, is pretty flawed in itself
-and some noobs think they can judge an entire 'study' from one quote. Strange.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.