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Sense of justice built into the brain
Date:5/4/2011

A new study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden shows that the brain has built-in mechanisms that trigger an automatic reaction to someone who refuses to share. The reaction derives from the amygdala, an older part of the brain. The subjects' sense of justice was challenged in a two-player money-based fairness game, while their brain activity was registered by an MR scanner. When bidders made unfair suggestions as to how to share the money, they were often punished by their partners even if it cost them. A drug that inhibits amygdala activity subdued this reaction to unfairness.

The study, a collaboration between Karolinska Institutet and the Stockholm School of Economics, is published in PLoS Biology. It is based on the universal human behaviour to react aggressively when another person contravenes the norm of acting in the best interests of the group by behaving unfairly. The researchers had 35 subjects play a money-based fairness game (the Ultimate Game), whereby one player suggests to another how a fixed sum of money is to be shared between them; the other player can then either accept the suggestion and take the money, or reject it, in which case neither player receives anything.

"If the sum to be shared is 100 SEK kronor and the suggestion is 50 each, everyone accepts it as it is seen as fair," says Dr Katarina Gospic. "But if the suggestion is that you get 20 and I take 80, it's seen as unfair. In roughly half the cases it ends up with the player receiving the smaller share rejecting the suggestion, even though it costs them 20 SEK. Doing this, they punish the player making the unfair suggestion despite losing out themselves."

By registering the subjects' brain activity with an MR scanner during play, the researchers were able to see that the brain area controlling these financial decisions was located in the amygdala, an evolutionary old and therefore more primitive part of the brain that controls feelings of anger
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Contact: Katarina Sternudd
katarina.sternudd@ki.se
46-852-483-895
Karolinska Institutet
Source:Eurekalert  

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