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Sense of Justice Built Into the Brain, Imaging Study Shows
Mon - May 9, 2011 10:12 am  |  Article Hits:4100  |  A+ | a-
In the study publishing in the online open access journal PLoS Biology, the subjects' a feeling of justice was challenged in a two-player monetary fairness game, and their brain activity was simultaneously measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). When bidders made unfair suggestions regarding how you can share the money, these were often punished by their partners even if it cost them. This reaction to unfairness might be reduced by targeting one specific brain region, the amygdala. The research is dependant on the universal human behaviour to interact with instant aggression when another person behaves unfairly as well as in a manner that isn't within the welfare of the group. They had 35 subjects play a money-based fairness game, in which one player suggests to a different what sort of fixed amount of cash will be shared together; the other player can then either accept the suggestion and take the money, or reject it, in which case neither player receives anything.

"If the sum to become shared is 100 SEK kronor and also the suggestion is 50 each, everyone accepts it as it is seen as fair," says Dr Katarina Gospic. "But if the suggestion is that you get 20 and I take 80, it's viewed as unfair. In roughly half the cases it ends up with the player receiving the smaller share rejecting the suggestion, though it costs them 20 SEK." Previous research has suggested the area controlling the capability to analyse making financial decisions is located in the prefrontal cortex and insula. Using fMRI, however, the researchers saw the brain area controlling for fast financial decisions was actually located in the amygdala, an evolutionary old and for that reason more primitive part of the brain that controls feelings of anger and fear.

To understand more about these results further, the subjects were either because of the anti-anxiety tranquilliser Oxazepam or a placebo while playing the overall game. They found that those who had received the drug showed lower amygdala activity along with a stronger tendency to accept an unfair distribution from the money -despite the truth that when asked, they still considered the suggestion unfair. Within the control group, the tendency to react aggressively and punish the ball player who had suggested the unfair distribution of money was directly associated with a rise in activity within the amygdala. A gender difference seemed to be observed, with men responding more aggressively to unfair suggestions than women byshowing a correspondingly higher rate of amygdalic activity. This gender difference was not based in the group that received Oxazepam. "This is definitely an incredibly interesting result that shows that it isn't just processes in the prefrontal cortex and insula that determine this kind of decision about financial equitability, as was previously thought," says Professor Martin Ingvar. "Our findings, however, may also have ethical implications since the use of certain drugs can clearly affect our everyday decision-making processes." The work was funded by the Swedish Research Council, The Barbro and Bernard Osher Foundation, The Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems
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