This Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation Could Make People Honest

Apr 11, 2017 11:12 AM EDT

A new study from the University of Zurich revealed that the honest behavior of humans can be influenced by a simple, non-invasive brain stimulation, making them less likely to cheat.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that making the brain cells in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC) more active can positively affect the deliberation process between honesty and self-interest.

For the study, the researchers asked 145 participants to complete a dice-rolling experiment. The participants were allowed to cheat by misreporting their outcomes, increasing their earning. Researchers observed that most people cheated a significant amount of time. However, there are still some that reported their real outcomes, regardless of their earnings. Overall, about eight percent of the participants cheated whenever possible in order to maximize their profits.

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"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," said Michel Marécha, a professor of Experimental Economics at the University of Zurich, in a press release.

The researchers asked the participants to repeat the experiment. But this time, the researchers applied transcranial direct current stimulation over a region in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to make the brain cells more sensitive.

When the simulation was applied during the task, participants were less likely to cheat. However, those who consistently cheated during the first experiment did not show any changes in their honest behavior and still cheated to maximize their earnings.

In a follow-up experiment involving 156 participants, the researchers found that the positive effect of the brain simulation is only applicable when their dishonest behavior benefited the participants themselves rather than another person. This suggests that the stimulated neural process specifically resolves conflicts between honesty and material self-interest.

Nevertheless, the result of the experiments shows that can be strengthened by noninvasive interventions.

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