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Brain stimulation affects compliance with social norms

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Posted October 4, 2013

Neuroeconomists at the University of Zurich have identified a specific brain region that controls compliance with social norms. They discovered that norm compliance is independent of knowledge about the norm and can be increased by means of brain stimulation.

Brain stimulation affects compliance with social norms
Camera views of a group test session involving transcranial direct current stimulation at the Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research, Department of Economics, University of Zurich. Credit: Marc Latzel

How does the human brain control compliance with social norms? The biological mechanisms that underlie norm compliance are still poorly understood. In a new study, Christian Ruff, Giuseppe Ugazio, and Ernst Fehr from the University of Zurich show that the lateral prefrontal cortex plays a central role in norm compliance.

Prefrontal cortex controls norm behavior

For the study, 63 participants took part in an experiment in which they received money and were asked to decide how much of it they wanted to share with an anonymous partner. A prevalent fairness norm in Western cultures dictates that the money should be evenly split between the two players. However, this contrasts with the participants’ self-interest to keep as much money as possible for themselves. In another experiment, the participants were faced with the same decision, but knew in advance that they could be punished by the partner for an unfair proposal.

Read more at: MedicalXpress

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