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Is honesty harder on the brain than lying?

Apparently not: honest people showed no additional neural activity when telling the truth. This is early days in a futuristic brain-based lie detector…

A new study of the cognitive processes involved with honesty suggests that truthfulness depends more on absence of temptation than active resistance to temptation.

Using neuroimaging, psychologists looked at the brain activity of people given the chance to gain money dishonestly by lying and found that honest people showed no additional neural activity when telling the truth, implying that extra cognitive processes were not necessary to choose honesty. However, those individuals who behaved dishonestly, even when telling the truth, showed additional activity in brain regions that involve control and attention.

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and was led by Joshua Greene, assistant professor of psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, along with Joe Paxton, a graduate student in psychology.

“Being honest is not so much a matter of exercising willpower as it is being disposed to behave honestly in a more effortless kind of way,” says Greene. “This may not be true for all situations, but it seems to be true for at least this situation.”

While previous research has examined the brain activity of subjects who are told to lie for the purpose of a study, this is the first study to examine brain activity of people telling actual lies.

This study is also the first to examine instances of truth-telling among individuals who were otherwise dishonest, and the neural activity present when they chose whether or not to lie. Greene notes that there was an important distinction between the brain activity when the honest participants told the truth, and when the dishonest participants told the truth.

“When the honest people leave money on the table, you don’t see anything special or extra going on in their brains at all,” says Greene. “Whereas, when the dishonest people leave money on the table, that’s when you saw the most robust control network activation.”

Source
If you like this, Listen to this interview of Greene.

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