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A study being conducted between the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTCRI) and the University of California at Berkeley, set out to isolate the specific portion of the brain responsible for lying.
We are trying to figure out why people lie, said Dr. Lusha Zhu, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral associate at VTCRI. (We want to determine) whether or not there is a brain region that is necessary for honesty.
In the neurological world, it is known that the prefrontal cortex - the area of the brain behind the forehead - becomes more active when considering telling the truth.
If there is a switch in the brain, and if the switch turns off, are people not able to be honest? Zhu said.
If that switch is a component of the prefrontal cortex, Zhu theorized that individuals with relevant brain damage would be less likely to tell the truth. The study therefore ran experiments on those with healthy brain structures as well as those with damage.
The experiments were based on classical tests of economic gain. One test allowed participants to increase their gain at the expense of others, and vice versa. Another test required them to send a message to another participants, where lying would increase personal gain.
It was found that subjects with damage to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex proved to be less aversive to lying, Zhu said. The study's results proved that a specific region of the brain plays a critical role in truth-telling.
We concluded that the lateral side of the brain could be a switch that controls whether we want to be aversive to lying when honesty and self-interest are in conflict, Zhu said.
Zhu explained that through modern neurological science, it is possible to remotely stimulate or inhibit specific regions of the brain - including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
We are temporarily able to make people more or less honest & by manually stimulating that section of the brain, Zhu said.
Current lie detector tests involve instructing a subject to tell a truth and then a lie, comparing the brain activity between each instance. With Zhu's research, it may be possible to enhance focus on the status of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
One thing that our study can provide - besides our conclusions - is a tool for people who are interested in studying these activities, Zhu said.
More than anything, Zhu sees her research as a jumping-off point for future research on the neuroscience of honesty.
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