It is a mystery that has perplexed psychologists and philosophers since the dawn of humanity: why are most people honest?
Now, using a complex array of MRI machines and electrocution devices, scientists claim to have found the answer.
Researchers at University College London discovered that at a physical level the brain finds decency far more satisfying than deception.
The trial revealed that, despite accumulating a large amount of money, most participants derived no deep-seated satisfaction if the success was gained at the expense of others.
Published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the study indicates that, at least at a psychological level, the old adage that “crime doesn’t pay” is right.
“When we make decisions, a network of brain regions calculates how valuable our options are,” said Dr Molly Crockett, who led the research.
“Ill-gotten gains evoke weaker responses in this network, which may explain why most people would rather not profit from harming others.
“Our results suggest the money just isn’t as appealing.”
The research team scanned volunteers’ brains as they decided whether to anonymously inflict pain on themselves or strangers in exchange for money.
The experiment involved 28 couples of participants who were paired off and given the ability to give each other small electric shocks.
They were given the option of selecting sums of money that were related to a shock either for themselves of their partner.
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