New research provides more clues about the brain processes involved in honesty and cheating.
“Honesty is a fundamental value in many societies,” explained one of the study’s authors, Alain Cohn of the University of Chicago. “Nevertheless, people often cheat when they can privately benefit from their dishonesty. Institutions cannot always prevent people from behaving dishonestly. Thus, we often have to rely on the intrinsic honesty of our fellow citizens.”
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that honest behavior could be increased by means of non-invasive brain stimulation. The researchers found that using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to stimulate a region in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC) made participants less likely to cheat.
One brain imaging study (Greene and Paxton, 2009 PNAS) found that a specific area in the brain (rDLPFC) was more active when subjects pondered the trade-off between honesty and financial gain. However, the brain imaging study cannot tell us in which direction causality is running or whether the identified brain area is actually involved in this decision process or whether it is merely a byproduct. Applying tDCS allowed us to test whether the rDLPFC is causally involved when people face the trade-off between honesty and financial gain.