Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Dishonesty May Be a Slippery Slope

Why is it that some people seem to lie or cheat consistently, with no apparent remorse? According to a report in Nature Neuroscience, it may be that they have been lying (or cheating) for so long that their brains' neural circuits have adapted to it, leaving them insensitive to their own dishonesty.

The researchers devised a research protocol in which volunteer subjects were put in a situation in which deliberate dishonesty was to their advantage, with no risk of detection. (As controls, other subjects were put in a situation in which only honesty was to their advantage.) Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers found that subjects who were dishonest showed a reduction in brain activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with emotions. The degree of reduction of activity in the amygdala tracked with the history of dishonesty, suggesting adaptation. Even more startling was the finding that the rate of amygdala adaptation predicted the rate of escalation of subsequent dishonesty. It appears, then that dishonesty tends to increase with repetition.

Nearly everyone tells a little lie now and then ("That dress looks great on you!"). But when lying becomes a self-serving habit, it may become a habit that's hard to break. Think about that the next time you are tempted to cheat on an exam.

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