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How fair sanctions are orchestrated in the brain
Date:10/6/2011

This release is available in German.

Civilized human cohabitation requires us to respect elementary social norms. We guarantee compliance with these norms with our willingness to punish norm violations often even at our own expense. This behavior goes against our own economic self-interest and requires us to control our egoistic impulses.

Innovative combination of methods

In collaboration with Professor Ernst Fehr, Dr. Thomas Baumgartner and Professor Daria Knoch reveal the neuronal networks behind self-control in an article recently published in Nature Neuroscience. For the purposes of their study, they combined the transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) method with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Interaction between two frontal brain regions

The results of the study show that people only punish norm violations at their own expense if the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex an important area for control located at the front of the brain is activated. This control entity must also interact with another frontal region, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, for punishment to occur.

The communication between these two frontal regions of the brain is also interesting in light of earlier fMRI studies, which showed that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex encodes the subjective value of consumer goods and normative behavior. As neuroscientist Thomas Baumgartner explains, it seems plausible that this brain region might also encode the subjective value of a sanction. This value increases through the communication with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Using brain stimulation, we were able to demonstrate that the communication between the two brain regions becomes more difficult if the activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is reduced. This in turn makes punishing norm violations at
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Contact: Dr. Thomas Baumgartner
t.baumgartner@unibas.ch
41-612-670-288
University of Zurich
Source:Eurekalert

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