A new study conducted at the Social and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory of the Santa Lucia Irccs Foundation, in collaboration with the Department of Psychology of Sapienza University of Rome and the Neuroimaging Laboratory of the Santa Lucia Irccs Foundation, has revealed that dishonest choices made during social interactions involve certain areas of the brain, which can be detected through the technique of functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Through this technique, it was also possible to detect differences in brain activation when participants decided whether or not to lie while their reputations might be at risk.
The study, published in the journal Communications Biology, involved 34 healthy people between the ages of 20 and 46, and used a simple game combined with the possibility of earning a cash prize using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a noninvasive technology that analyzes brain activity in real time by measuring blood flow to various areas of the brain.
The card game involved interaction between two players: the player outside the MRI had to try to draw the winning card from two possible ones without being able to verify the outcome of his choice. In contrast, the participant inside the MRI had the task of observing and communicating the outcome of the game. He could then decide whether to tell the truth or lie and change the outcome of the game.
The participant in the MRI was aware that in half of the cases the playmate would not be able to know whether he or she had lied or not (reputation not at risk), while in the other half he or she would have knowledge of any lies (reputation at risk). “The research results,” commented Valerio Santangelo and Lennie Dupont, researchers from the neuroimaging laboratory at the Santa Lucia Irccs Foundation, “show that dishonest decisions are associated with increased activity in a cortico-subcortical circuitry that includes the bilateral anterior cingulate (Acc), anterior insula (Ai), left dorsolateral prefrontal, supplementary motor area and right caudate nucleus.