CAMBRIDGE, Mass. 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."
The research was designed to test two theories about the nature of honesty the "Will" theory, in which honesty results from the active resistance of temptation, and the "Grace" theory in which honesty is a product of lack of temptation. The results of this study suggest that the "Grace" theory is true, because the honest participants did not show any additional neural activity when telling the truth.
To prompt participants to lie, the researchers created a cover story about the focus of their study. The research was presented as a study of paranormal ability to predict the future. Participants were asked to predict the outcomes of a series of coin tosses, and were told that the researchers believed predicting the future was more likely when given a monetary incentive and when the predicti
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