Theologians like Thomas R. Kopfensteiner maintain that the more we sin, the more inclined we are to sin and the more difficult it is not to sin.
Now, scientists have discovered neurological evidence to support that theologian observation.
A study by a team of researchers discovered a biological mechanism in our brain, specifically in the amygdala, which supports a ‘slippery slope’ of lying — what begins as small acts of dishonesty can escalate into larger moral transgressions. In other words, the brain actually adapts to dishonesty by becoming desensitized, so that the more you lie, the more you are disposed to lie, and the bigger the lies.
The amygdalae are two almond-shaped groups of nuclei located deep and medially within the temporal lobes of the brain, which govern memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions.
Neil Garrett, Stephanie C Lazzaro, Dan Ariely and Tali Sharot reported their findings in “The brain adapts to dishonesty,” published online on October 24, 2016 in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Neuroscience 19, 1727–1732.
- Dr. Neil Garrett is a post-doctoral researcher at Princeton Neuroscience Institute.
- Dr. Stephanie Lazzaro is a senior teaching fellow at the Affective Brain Lab of the Department of Experimental Psychology, University College London, UK.
- Dr. Dan Ariely is a professor of of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, Durham, South Carolina.
- Dr. Tali Sharot is an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience in the department of Experimental Psychology at University College London (UCL).
Here’s the Abstract of the article (the full text of the article costs $32):
Dishonesty is an integral part of our social world, influencing domains ranging from finance and politics to personal relationships. Anecdotally, digressions from a moral code are often described as a series of small breaches that grow over time. Here we provide empirical evidence for a gradual escalation of self-serving dishonesty and reveal a neural mechanism supporting it. Behaviorally, we show that the extent to which participants engage in self-serving dishonesty increases with repetition. Using functional MRI, we show that signal reduction in the amygdala is sensitive to the history of dishonest behavior, consistent with adaptation. Critically, the extent of reduced amygdala sensitivity to dishonesty on a present decision relative to the previous one predicts the magnitude of escalation of self-serving dishonesty on the next decision. The findings uncover a biological mechanism that supports a ‘slippery slope’: what begins as small acts of dishonesty can escalate into larger transgressions.
Xavier Symons provides more details of the team’s findings in BioEdge, Oct. 29, 2016:
“The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, provides the first empirical evidence that self-serving lies gradually escalate and reveals how this happens in our brains.
Researchers recruited 80 volunteers who took part in a ‘team estimation task’ that involved guessing the number of pennies in a jar and sending their estimates to unseen partners using a computer. This took place in several different scenarios. In the baseline scenario, participants were told to aim at the most accurate estimate, while in other scenarios, over or under-estimating the amount would either benefit the participant at their partner’s expense, benefit both of them, benefit their partner at their own expense, or only benefit one of them with no effect on the other.
The researchers found that dishonesty increased over 60 presentations of the jar, but only when it was self-serving.
Twenty-five of the participants conducted the task in a functional MRI scanner, and researchers discovered that activity in amygdala — a brain region that responds to and processes emotion — decreased over time during the subsequent acts of dishonesty.
This study is the first empirical evidence that dishonest behavior escalates when it’s repeated, when all else is held constant,” lead author Neil Garrett, a cognitive neuroscientist at U.C.L., told reporters at a recent press conference.”
In an article in The Conversation on Oct. 24, 2016, Neil Garrett and Tali Sharot provide more explanation of their findings:
“In an experiment we carried out with colleagues Stephanie Lazzaro and Dan Ariely – published in Nature Neuroscience – we gave 80 people the opportunity to lie again and again on a financial task in order to gain money at another person’s expense. We found that people started with small lies, but slowly, over the course of the experiment, lied more and more. This escalation of dishonesty was observed only when participants lied for their own benefit, not when they did so solely for the benefit of others.
Outside the laboratory, there are many reasons for why dishonesty may escalate – incentives may become larger or past lies might need to be covered up. Examining people’s brain activity while they were being dishonest in our task revealed another reason – a biological process called emotional adaption.
What does emotion have to do with dishonesty? Well, that bad feeling you have when you think about cheating can stop you from doing it. In its absence, you are more likely to lie. In one study, a group of students were given pills called beta-blockers that reduced emotional arousal just before taking an exam. These students were twice as likely to cheat on the exam compared to students who received a placebo.
Most of us do not pop a pill before we lie. But the results of our experiment showed that the brain’s emotion network responds less and less with each additional lie. The greater the drop in the brain’s sensitivity to dishonesty, the more people lied the next time they got a chance. In other words, people adapted to their own dishonesty and less was holding them back from telling bigger lies.
It was not the case that brain activity simply decreased over time. The reduction in sensitivity was very specific – it was specific to the exact amount someone lied and it was detected only in the brain’s emotion network, not in other brain areas….
Repeated dishonesty is a bit like a perfume you apply over and over. Initially your response to your own acts of dishonesty is strong, but over time it decreases. Like the students taking the beta-blockers, your capacity for being dishonest increases….
Previous research by Ariely and others shows that dishonesty can be curbed through interventions such as reminding people of their values, emphasising the honest actions of others and wiping the slate clean through acts of confession. Interventions like these could be used to nudge people away from dishonest acts before they escalate.”
In the case of habitual pathological liars like Hillary Clinton, her amygdalae must have become so desensitized to lying that they’ve probably ceased to function altogether. See:
- Proof that Hillary Clinton Clinton is a psychopathic liar
- Hillary Clinton, pathological liar, blames election loss on ‘fake news’
- Hillary Clinton was fired for lying when she was 27 years old
- Shocker, not: Hillary Clinton tells another lie to pander for votes
- State Dept phone transcripts show Hillary knew at the time that Benghazi was a terrorist attack
- Voters don’t care Hillary Clinton is dishonest and immoral
See also “Sunday Devotional: Lies are a hallmark of evil”.