Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Dishonesty Involves Activity In Control-related Brain Networks, Neuroimaging Study Suggests

Date:
July 14, 2009
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
Scientists have found that honest people show no additional neural activity when telling the truth. However, dishonest people display activation in the brain regions associated with attention and control, even when telling the truth. In this new study, participants were given the opportunity to lie to gain money and their brain activity was examined using fMRI.

A new study of the cognitive processes involved with honesty suggests that truthfulness depends more on absence of temptation than active resistance to temptation.

Related Articles


Using neuroimaging, psychologists looked at the brain activity of people given the chance to gain money dishonestly by lying and found that honest people showed no additional neural activity when telling the truth, implying that extra cognitive processes were not necessary to choose honesty. However, those individuals who behaved dishonestly, even when telling the truth, showed additional activity in brain regions that involve control and attention.

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and was led by Joshua Greene, assistant professor of psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, along with Joe Paxton, a graduate student in psychology.

"Being honest is not so much a matter of exercising willpower as it is being disposed to behave honestly in a more effortless kind of way," says Greene. "This may not be true for all situations, but it seems to be true for at least this situation."

The research was designed to test two theories about the nature of honesty – the "Will" theory, in which honesty results from the active resistance of temptation, and the "Grace" theory in which honesty is a product of lack of temptation. The results of this study suggest that the "Grace" theory is true, because the honest participants did not show any additional neural activity when telling the truth.

To prompt participants to lie, the researchers created a cover story about the focus of their study. The research was presented as a study of paranormal ability to predict the future. Participants were asked to predict the outcomes of a series of coin tosses, and were told that the researchers believed predicting the future was more likely when given a monetary incentive and when the prediction wasn't shared in advance of the outcome. This gave the participants the opportunity to lie and say that they had correctly predicted the coin toss to win the money.

The researchers assessed the honesty of the individuals based on whether their number of correct responses was statistically feasible. Individuals who reported improbably high levels of accuracy were classified as dishonest, and participants reporting statistically feasible levels of accuracy were classified as honest. The researchers emphasize that the labels "honest" and "dishonest" describe only these individuals' behavior in the experiment and need not characterize their behavior more generally.

Using fMRI, Greene found that the honest individuals displayed little to no additional brain activity when reporting their prediction of the coin toss. However, the dishonest participants' brains were most active in control-related brain regions when they chose not to lie. These control-related brain regions include the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex, and previous research has shown that these regions are active when an individual is asked to lie.

While previous research has examined the brain activity of subjects who are told to lie for the purpose of a study, this is the first study to examine brain activity of people telling actual lies.

This study is also the first to examine instances of truth-telling among individuals who were otherwise dishonest, and the neural activity present when they chose whether or not to lie. Greene notes that there was an important distinction between the brain activity when the honest participants told the truth, and when the dishonest participants told the truth.

"When the honest people leave money on the table, you don't see anything special or extra going on in their brains at all," says Greene. "Whereas, when the dishonest people leave money on the table, that's when you saw the most robust control network activation."

If neuroscience is able to identify lies by peering into the brain of the liar, it will be important to distinguish between activity in the brain when lying and activity caused by the temptation to lie. Greene says that eventually it may be possible to detect lies by looking at someone's brain activity, although a lot more work must be done before this is possible.

The research was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Dishonesty Involves Activity In Control-related Brain Networks, Neuroimaging Study Suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 July 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090713201622.htm>.
Harvard University. (2009, July 14). Dishonesty Involves Activity In Control-related Brain Networks, Neuroimaging Study Suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 28, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090713201622.htm
Harvard University. "Dishonesty Involves Activity In Control-related Brain Networks, Neuroimaging Study Suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090713201622.htm (accessed February 28, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Best Foods to Battle Stress

The Best Foods to Battle Stress

Buzz60 (Feb. 26, 2015) If you&apos;re dealing with anxiety, there are a few foods that can help. Krystin Goodwin (@krystingoodwin) has the best foods to tame stress. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little Might Increase Stroke Risk

Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little Might Increase Stroke Risk

Newsy (Feb. 26, 2015) People who sleep more than eight hours per night are 45 percent more likely to have a stroke, according to a University of Cambridge study. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mayor Says District of Columbia to Go Ahead With Pot Legalization

Mayor Says District of Columbia to Go Ahead With Pot Legalization

Reuters - News Video Online (Feb. 25, 2015) Washington&apos;s mayor says the District of Columbia will move forward with marijuana legalization, despite pushback from Congress. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Marijuana Nowhere Near As Deadly As Alcohol: Study

Marijuana Nowhere Near As Deadly As Alcohol: Study

Newsy (Feb. 25, 2015) A new study says marijuana is about 114 times less deadly than alcohol. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins