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Serotonin Levels Determine Sense of Fairness
Date:6/5/2008

Less of brain chemical makes people more likely to reject unfair offer, study shows

THURSDAY, June 5 (HealthDay News) -- Levels of a brain chemical known as serotonin govern the way people react to unfair offers when they play the game of life, a new study indicates.

Serotonin, which carries messages between neurons, is involved in emotional control. One recent study found that the expression of anger in women was affected by variations in a gene governing the receptors for serotonin in brain cells.

The new study, reported in the June 5 issue of Science, had people play what is called the Ultimate Game, which is being used widely in psychological and neurological studies. The game has one player proposing a way to split a pot of money. If the offer is accepted by the other player, both get paid. If it is refused, neither gets a payment.

The researchers had some players make deliberately unfair offers: "I get 80 percent, you get 20 percent." They found that players given a chemical that lowered serotonin levels were more likely to reject an unfair offer.

Serotonin levels have that effect, because the chemical is involved in the activity of the prefrontal region of the brain, explained study author Molly J. Crockett, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge in England.

"One recent study on the Ultimate Game showed that when an unfair offer is accepted, you see activity in the prefrontal cortex," Crockett said. "Down-rating the emotional response makes it more unlikely that an unfair offer will be accepted."

In other words, lower serotonin levels also meant a higher level of resentment, so that an offer that wasn't as good as it might be would be turned down. Conversely, higher serotonin levels would make it easier to live in an imperfect world.

It's hard to apply that knowledge directly, Crockett said.

"What we did was have people fast overnight," she
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