Thursday, October 12, 2006

Study Spots the Brain's Selfishness 'Off-Switch'

Experiments involving a "fairness" game show that the right side of this region -- called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex -- helps people suppress selfish urges in obviously unjust situations, even at their own expense.

When researchers used a mild electric current to temporarily short-circuit this area, the law of the jungle quickly reasserted itself.

People with disabled right-side dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes grabbed whatever money they could from lopsided transactions -- even when they knew the deal they were getting was grossly unfair.

In the study, they had participants play the game under two conditions. In the first condition, the researchers passed a mild electric current through the right or left hemispheres of Player 2's DLPFC, temporarily deactivating these brain regions. Other participants took on the Player 2 role under sham conditions where no real electric current was flowing.

Players whose right-side DLPFC's were "switched off" accepted even very low amounts of cash nearly half (45 percent) of the time -- even though they knew the offer was terribly unfair.

But under normal conditions, barely one in 10 players accepted such insulting low offers, the researchers found.

"The big surprise," Fehr said, "is that a relatively minor inhibition of the right DLPFC removes or weakens the subject's ability to override their self-interest."
Amazing that you can apply a mild electrical shock to that area and affect how people act.

via KFVS


crush41 said...

At what point in the future will we look back at free will as but a fanciful fairytale?

al fin said...

The brain is a lot like a Swiss Army Knife. Lots of cool neuronal gadgets glommed together to help a meat robot make its way in the world for a few decades, plus or minus.

One of my private crusades is the search for critical developmental windows--making use of as many of the Swiss Army Knife gadgets as possible before their use is lost to time and neglect.

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