Like to Tell a Lie? A Part of Your Brain May Make You Do It

Tell the truth.  How honest are you really?

Do you tell the cashier when she undercharges you by $1?  Do you remind your carpool buddy that it's really your turn to drive?  Or do you just let these kinds of things slide, thinking, it's not hurting anyone, anyway.

 Well, a new study says that everyone has a tipping point and at some point, we’ll lie if the benefit is great enough. Now, scientists have confirmed the area of the brain in which we make that decision, according to newswise.com.

 “We prefer to be honest, even if lying is beneficial,” said Lusha Zhu, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral associate at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, where she works with Brooks King-Casas and Pearl Chiu, who are assistant professors at the institute and with Virginia Tech’s Department of Psychology. “How does the brain make the choice to be honest, even when there is a significant cost to being honest?”

Previous studies have shown that brain areas behind the forehead become more active during functional brain scanning when a participant is told to lie or to be honest.

But there’s no way to know if those parts of the brain are engaged because an individual is lying or because he or she prefers to be honest, King-Casas said.

Researchers compared the decisions of healthy participants with decisions made by participants with damaged parts of the brain in which we make the decision whether to be honest. “We asked (in the study) whether there’s a switch in the brain that controls the cost and benefit tradeoff between honesty and self-interest,” Chiu said.

Participants were given an option that gave them more money at a cost to an anonymous opponent, and an option that gave the opponent more money at a cost to the participant. Unsurprisingly, participants chose the option that filled their own pockets.

In a different game, the researchers presented participants with the same options and but asked the participants to send a message to their opponents, recommending one option over the other. The participants either lie and reap the reward, or tell the truth and suffer a loss.


“The average person usually shows lie aversion,” Zhu told newswise.com. “If they don’t need to send a message, they prefer the option that gives them more money. If they do need to send a message, they’re more likely to send a message that will benefit the other person even at a loss to themselves. They want to be honest, at the cost of their own wallet.”

Participants with damage in the brain area behind the forehead were not as averse to lying as the two comparison groups. They were more likely to pick the practical option and were less concerned about the potential cost to self-image.

In the game where no message was required, however, participants with the damage showed the same pattern of decision-making as the comparison groups, suggesting that for each group, the baseline tendency to give to others is the same.

“These results suggest that the brain region known to be critically involved in cognitive control, may play a causal role in enabling honest behavior,” Chiu said.

“People feel good when they’re honest and they feel bad when they lie,” King-Casas said. “Self-interest and self-image are both powerful factors influencing a person’s decision to be honest.”




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