. Earth Science News .

The price of your soul: How the brain decides whether to 'sell out'
by Staff Writers
Atlanta GA (SPX) Jan 24, 2012

The brain imaging data showed a strong correlation between sacred values and activation of the neural systems associated with evaluating rights and wrongs (the left temporoparietal junction) and semantic rule retrieval (the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex), but not with systems associated with reward.

An Emory University neuro-imaging study shows that personal values that people refuse to disavow, even when offered cash to do so, are processed differently in the brain than those values that are willingly sold.

"Our experiment found that the realm of the sacred - whether it's a strong religious belief, a national identity or a code of ethics - is a distinct cognitive process," says Gregory Berns, director of the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University and lead author of the study. The results were published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Sacred values prompt greater activation of an area of the brain associated with rules-based, right-or-wrong thought processes, the study showed, as opposed to the regions linked to processing of costs-versus-benefits.

Berns headed a team that included economists and information scientists from Emory University, a psychologist from the New School for Social Research and anthropologists from the Institute Jean Nicod in Paris, France.

The research was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.

"We've come up with a method to start answering scientific questions about how people make decisions involving sacred values, and that has major implications if you want to better understand what influences human behavior across countries and cultures," Berns says. "We are seeing how fundamental cultural values are represented in the brain."

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record the brain responses of 32 U.S. adults during key phases of an experiment.

In the first phase, participants were shown statements ranging from the mundane, such as "You are a tea drinker," to hot-button issues such "You support gay marriage" and "You are Pro-Life." Each of the 62 statements had a contradictory pair, such as "You are Pro-Choice," and the participants had to choose one of each pair.

At the end of the experiment, participants were given the option of auctioning their personal statements: Disavowing their previous choices for actual money. The participants could earn as much as $100 per statement by simply agreeing to sign a document stating the opposite of what they believed. They could choose to opt out of the auction for statements they valued highly.

"We used the auction as a measure of integrity for specific statements," Berns explains.

"If a person refused to take money to change a statement, then we considered that value to be personally sacred to them. But if they took money, then we considered that they had low integrity for that statement and that it wasn't sacred."

The brain imaging data showed a strong correlation between sacred values and activation of the neural systems associated with evaluating rights and wrongs (the left temporoparietal junction) and semantic rule retrieval (the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex), but not with systems associated with reward.

"Most public policy is based on offering people incentives and disincentives," Berns says. "Our findings indicate that it's unreasonable to think that a policy based on costs-and-benefits analysis will influence people's behavior when it comes to their sacred personal values, because they are processed in an entirely different brain system than incentives."

Research participants who reported more active affiliations with organizations, such as churches, sports teams, musical groups and environmental clubs, had stronger brain activity in the same brain regions that correlated to sacred values. "Organized groups may instill values more strongly through the use of rules and social norms," Berns says.

The experiment also found activation in the amygdala region, a brain region associated with emotional reactions, but only in cases where participants refused to take cash to state the opposite of what they believe.

"Those statements represent the most repugnant items to the individual," Berns says, "and would be expected to provoke the most arousal, which is consistent with the idea that when sacred values are violated, that induces moral outrage."

The study is part of a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, titled "The Biology of Cultural Conflict." Berns edited the special issue, which brings together a dozen articles on the culture of neuroscience, including differences in the neural processing of people on the opposing sides of conflict, from U.S. Democrats and Republicans to Arabs and Israelis.

"As culture changes, it affects our brains, and as our brains change, that affects our culture. You can't separate the two," Berns says. "We now have the means to start understanding this relationship, and that's putting the relatively new field of cultural neuroscience onto the global stage."

Future conflicts over politics and religion will likely play out biologically, Berns says. Some cultures will choose to change their biology, and in the process, change their culture, he notes. He cites the battles over women's reproductive rights and gay marriage as ongoing examples.

Related Links
Emory University
All About Human Beings and How We Got To Be Here

Get Our Free Newsletters Via Email
Buy Advertising Editorial Enquiries


. Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Penn Researchers Help Solve Questions About Ethiopians' High-Altitude Adaptations
Philadelphia PA (SPX) Jan 22, 2012
Over many generations, people living in the high-altitude regions of the Andes or on the Tibetan Plateau have adapted to life in low-oxygen conditions. Living with such a distinct and powerful selective pressure has made these populations a textbook example of evolution in action, but exactly how their genes convey a survival advantage remains an open question. Now, a University of Pennsyl ... read more

Disaster Communications Terminals Deployed In South Sudan

TEPCO uses camera to survey Fukushima reactor

Disasters cost $366 billion in 2011: UN

Simulating firefighting operations on a PC

Quantum physics enables perfectly secure cloud computing

Dutch court rules in Apple/Samsung fight

RIM to focus more on consumer market: new CEO

Metadynamics technique offers insight into mineral growth and dissolution

Asia loses its taste for shark fin

Stranded baby seals concern Dutch rescuers

Broadcast study of ocean acidification to date helps scientists evaluate effects on marine life

Rich Asians threaten high-value fish: experts

Satellites detect abundance of fresh water in the Arctic

Alaskan farewell to Russian tanker after fuel run

Russian ship leaves after ice-bound Alaska fuel run

US, Russia to conduct joint Antarctica inspection

Study shines light on ways to cut costs for greenhouse growers

Farming is key to meeting environmental challenge: FAO chief

Sweeten up your profits with the right hybrid

Science to help rice growers affected by Japan's tsunami

Waiting for Death Valley's Big Bang

Tropical cyclone hits Mozambique, 12 dead: report

Japan and New Zealand were hit hardest by earthquakes

New floods hit northeastern Australia

Former colonial soldiers in Mozambique hope for pensions

Nigeria police fire tear gas at Lagos protest

Ethiopia: Thousands driven out in land grab

Sudan rebels say key govt outpost taken

The price of your soul: How the brain decides whether to 'sell out'

Penn Researchers Help Solve Questions About Ethiopians' High-Altitude Adaptations

Babies with three parents a possibility

Sitting pretty: bum's the word in Japan security


The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2012 - Space Media Network. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement