Science & Technology Law

Shocking Research Says Most People Are Pretty Cruel--For a Price

In recent years researchers have been using MRI machines to study the brains of psychopaths to see if they are hard-wired from birth with brain abnormalities that lead them to cruelty and crime. But what about the rest of us?

Not so good as we’d like to think, according to research results presented this week at the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, according to Science News. It seems that we talk a good game when asked whether we’d deliberately induce a painful electric shock to another person in order to get money—64 percent say they would never do so.

But then researchers offered real money in real situations. When put into MRI brain scanners and shown a video feed of someone’s hand jerking, or that image along with a grimace, 96 percent administered the shock in return for money. (It turned out the videos, while real, had been pre-recorded and weren’t actually occurring in the test situation.)

There was some mitigation in the moral dilemma: Those who saw both the hand jerk and the grimace took away less money than those who didn’t view the other person’s face.

The findings were “chilling,” Tor Wager, a cognitive scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder told Science News, but it helps in understanding the brain’s role in moral behavior. “That’s something we are just starting to address scientifically, but it’s a critical frontier because it has such an impact on human life.”

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