Weighing Honesty Against Self-Interest

September 16, 2014 8:01 PM

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The tradeoff between honesty and self-interest isn't always blatantly apparent, but it plays a role in a wide range of personal and professional decisions. One example is selling a car. If you're trying to sell a car, do you tell potential buyers that the A/C sometimes doesn't work? Or that the CD player skips? That the brake pads need replacing? How much information do you reveal when you know that that information will affect the buyer's willingness to purchase the car and how much they're willing to pay for it? You could lie, or even simply withhold information, hoping to sell the car for a higher price, but that would be dishonest. You could provide the buyer with complete information on the car, but that will limit your chances of selling it or reduce the price you get for it. Studies have shown that, in general, individuals are willing to give up some economic benefits and personal gain in favor of honesty, even when there's no risk of punishment or repercussions for dishonesty. So even if they could sell the car with complete anonymity and finality, most people choose to reveal more information about it than they have to, fully knowing that it will decrease the price. What's keeping us honest? How do our brains actually make that decision?

Neural imaging and developmental studies have shown that this sort of decision involves two major parts of the brain: the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the orbital frontal cortex (OFC), both of which are part of the larger prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex, or PFC, is known to ...

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