Honest behavior can be enhanced by brain stimulation
For most people, being honest is one of the most important characteristics. Nevertheless, every person is lying or dizzy in their lives. Scientists have now found in an experiment that honesty can be enhanced - using brain stimulation.
"Honestly fights the longest": This saying probably best expresses how important honesty is to most people. However, it is often not so easy to always tell the truth and never cheat. Swiss researchers have now carried out an experiment with colleagues from the USA to find out how honesty can be helped - with the help of light electric shocks.
Honest behavior can be reinforced
Honesty plays a central role in social and economic life. Without them, promises will not be kept or contracts will not be fulfilled. Despite this social importance, the biological foundations of honesty are hardly known.
Scientific studies have shown that not all people in different situations take honesty equally seriously.
For example, years ago, scientists from the Universities of Regensburg and Hamburg reported an experiment in which it was found that women in groups are more honest, while lying in men increases.
According to US researchers, people's morale fluctuates throughout the day. Her study showed that honesty was more pronounced in the morning than in the evening.
Researchers at the University of Zurich (UZH), together with colleagues from Chicago and Boston, have now shown that honest behavior can be enhanced by brain stimulation. They have demonstrated the process of balancing honesty with material self-interest in the right prefrontal cortex.
Lying for material self-interest
According to a statement from the university, participants in a dice experiment were able to increase their profits by telling the falsehood instead of telling the truth.
The scientists found that the participants actually often used the falsehood to increase their profits. However, many participants kept telling the truth.
“Most people weigh self-interest motives against honesty on a case-by-case basis. They cheat from time to time, but not at every opportunity, ”said Michel Maréchal, UZH professor for experimental economic research.
Around eight percent of the participants, however, lied whenever possible to maximize their profits.
Brain cells become more active
In order to stimulate the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex - the brain area where this weighing process takes place - the researchers applied transcranial direct current stimulation. This non-invasive method of brain stimulation increases the sensitivity of brain cells - the cells tend to become more active.
As soon as the researchers stimulated the test subjects, they lied less. However, the number of people who consistently lied to maximize profits remained unchanged.
Christian Ruff, professor of neuroeconomics at the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich, added: “The stimulation increased honest behavior, primarily among people for whom lies was a moral conflict; however, it did not affect those who were only interested in maximizing their advantage ”.
The results of the investigation were published in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS).
Weighing between material and moral motives
According to the research team, stimulation only affected the trade-off between material and moral motives. The scientists found no effects of stimulation on conflicts without moral aspects - such as financial decisions that were associated with risks, ambivalence or delayed reward.
Another experiment showed that brain stimulation did not affect the honesty of the test subjects if another person was favored by the lie and thus there was a conflict between two purely moral motives (honesty or helping another person).
The stimulated neurobiological process thus concerned in particular the weighing of personal, material self-interest and honesty.
To what extent is dishonesty due to biological disposition?
The researchers see their results as an important step towards identifying the brain processes that enable people to behave honestly.
"These brain processes could be fundamental for individual differences in honesty - also with regard to pathological manifestations," says Ruff.
The latest results raise the question of the extent to which honesty can be attributed to a biological disposition. According to the study authors, this should be of central importance for case law.
"If dishonesty is actually due to biological requirements, our study questions the extent to which people can be held accountable for their behavior," said Michel Maréchal. (ad)