Who said money cannot buy happiness? Sure it can. Money, as any other achievement that can be quickly transferred into a reward triggers some reactions in the brain, which make people happy. However, a new study from UCL revealed that not all money makes people happy. Scientists found that money, gained in ill ways, does not feel that good.
There are millions of ways to earn money, many of which are illegal. However, it is not just laws preventing us from making money at expense of the others. It is also our societal norms, morals and, as this new study shows, some neural networks in our brain. Scientists from UCL performed some experiments and found that making money while harming others does not trigger the same responses in the brain as properly earned money does. Experiments themselves were rather interesting.
Pairs of volunteers had to choose the amount of money, which was assigned to a number of electric shocks. Then one person had to decide whether he is getting shocked or another person. Regardless of who gets painful shock, the decider gets the money. Scientists previously determined that people generally do not like harming others more than themselves and it was true for this study also. Scientists monitored brain activity of the volunteers and noticed that network including the striatum responded less to money gained from shocking others, compared with money gained from shocking oneself – but only in those people who behaved morally.
Another brain region, the lateral prefrontal cortex, as scientists found, is involved in assessing blame. It was most active in trials where inflicting pain yielded minimal profit. It means that human brain somehow interprets the feelings of the other, imagining how much another person might blame us for our actions. Interestingly, this effect is visible even when these actions are completely anonymous. Senior author Professor Ray Dolan said: “What we have shown here is how values that guide our decisions respond flexibly to moral consequences. An important goal for future research is understanding when and how this circuitry is disturbed in contexts such as antisocial behaviour”.
Humans are not naturally bad. It turns out even our brain is wired in such a way that making gains is immoral ways does not really feel that great. And that is the highlight – doing bad feels bad, even if you get money from it.