Unless you can read minds, one can never know whether an individual is being honest. Yet, a study conducted by Michel Andre Marechala, Alain Cohn, Giuseppe Ugazioc, and Christian C. Ruffa, indicates that there are ways to stimulate the brain to influence honest behavior.

The experiment was designed so that participants had to trade off personal financial gain against the value they assigned to being honest.

Those conducting the study stimulated the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex which is involved in planning, memory, working memory, and honesty [1]. They did so using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a non-invasive, painless procedure using low intensity electrical currents by placing two electrodes on the scalp to monitor neural activity [2]. 

The methods of the study included a die-rolling task where subjects were asked to “report the outcomes of 10 die rolls” and “each roll could result with a 50% probability in either a gain of 9 Swiss francs or no change in payoff.” Essentially, a number would show up on a screen indicating which number would include a monetary gain and the subjects had to try to roll the dice to land on one of the numbers to be paid. There were three groups of subjects: the sham, anodal, and cathodal. Those in the sham group received no stimulation, serving as a control group. Those in the anodal group received tDCS to enhance “neural activity” in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex while those in the cathodal group received tDCS to “decrease neural excitability” in the region. Lastly, the subjects completed the task “anonymously” and reported their numbers [3].

Implying a 50% benchmark of times indicated where their score fell into the range, the study analyzed that those who didn’t get stimulation (the “sham” group) cheated 37% of all their responses. With the anodal tDCS, the “result corresponds to an implied cheating rate of 15%”, significantly lower than the sham condition. Lastly, the cathodal condition found nothing “significantly different from the success rate reported in the sham stimulation” [3].

Thus, an individual’s honesty can be stimulated non-invasively, as supported by the study. From the Volkswagen scandal a couple of years ago to every-day conversations, honesty clearly plays a large role in society.


Citation 1: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5447931/

Citation 2: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/psychiatry/specialty_areas/brain_stimulation/tdcs.html

Citation 3: http://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/early/2017/04/04/1614912114.full.pdf

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