Civilized human cohabitation requires us to respect elementary social norms. We guarantee compliance with these norms with our willingness to punish norm violations – often even at our own expense. This behavior goes against our own economic self-interest and requires us to control our egoistic impulses.
The communication between these two frontal regions of the brain is also interesting in light of earlier fMRI studies, which showed that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex encodes the subjective value of consumer goods and normative behavior. As neuroscientist Thomas Baumgartner explains, it seems plausible that this brain region might also encode the subjective value of a sanction. This value increases through the communication with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. «Using brain stimulation, we were able to demonstrate that the communication between the two brain regions becomes more difficult if the activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is reduced. This in turn makes punishing norm violations at your own expense significantly more difficult.»
TMS reduces the excitability of an area of the brain temporarily and painlessly. The researchers used this short-term impairment of an area of the brain to examine subjects' behavior when they had to decide whether to punish a partner’s unfair behavior in a negotiation experiment. TMS enables causal conclusions as to whether a particular area of the brain plays a decisive role in behavior, including whether sanctions will occur. Brain areas often work in a network, however, and rarely in isolation during such a complex process. While fMRI can be used to measure the activity of these networks, the method does not allow any causal conclusions to be drawn. Only a combination of the two methods thus permits the determination of the neuronal networks that play a causal role in sanctioning at one’s own expense.Literature:
Nathalie Huber | idw
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