09/14/2021 at 6:54 PM CEST
A new study developed by scientists who are part of the Society for Neuroscience of the United States concludes that cognitive control impacts our moral decisions, so it would have the ability to “reverse” our habitual behaviors: if we are honest we could be oriented towards deception , while if we are characterized by cheating and lying, we would tend to change towards honesty.
According to a press release, the skill known as cognitive control allows you to manage brain impulses, such as focusing on one person in a crowd and ignoring distractions. At the same time, it was known that it also plays an important role in moral decision-making.
Now, new research recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience has found that when the activity of the Theta brain waves a pattern of activity representative of cognitive control is strengthened, people tend to “reverse” their moral behavior: cheaters show a particular tendency to be honest and honest people seem more determined to cheat.
Theta waves and cognitive control
Theta waves are electromagnetic oscillations that are evident at frequencies ranging between 3.5 and 7.5 Hz: they are easily detected in the human brain by an electroencephalogram, a study that measures the electrical activity of our brain.
Generally speaking, Theta waves are directly related to the
initial stages of sleep. Neuroscientists have determined that they are generated after interaction between the temporal and frontal lobes, two very important structures of the cerebral cortex that are involved in different cognitive functions and of the Central Nervous System.
At the same time, Theta waves are key in cognitive control processes, which can basically be defined as the ability to inhibit certain predominant and somehow automatic responses, in favor of other responses that require the implementation of more elaborate care processes.
Cognitive control and moral decisions
In other words, with cognitive control, the brain “makes an effort” not to be guided by impulsive or habitually repeated reactions, giving way to other types of more complex behaviors that are needed to carry out specific tasks. An example of this kind of behavior is moral decisions.
Faced with a specific possibility of taking something that is not ours, for example, cognitive control slows down the impulse to steal and “reminds” us that we are honest people or that within our scale of values it is not positive to take something foreign. However, the new study finds that reactions are not always so logical or predictable.
Related topic: The brain has a lie detector.
During the research, the scientists measured the brain activity of a group of participants with EEG. The purpose was to determine the cognitive control activity pattern and to compare it with the brain dynamics of the volunteers, in the framework of a “game” that put their moral behaviors to the test.
It was thus that they verified that the increase in theta waves not only evidenced the cognitive control function, but also on many occasions it favored the inversion of the habitual moral behavior of each participant. The data showed that the honest lost their moral “limits” and could increase their predisposition to lie, while the habitual “cheats” were inclined to be more honest.
It is worth noting, however, that scientists argue that cognitive control does not promote “dishonesty” instantaneously: it all depends on the moral fault that is at stake in every situation. In this way, moral behavior defined as “honest” would not be intuitive: in a way, it would depend on the willpower of each person and of an individual choice.
Cognitive control promotes either honesty or dishonesty, depending on one’s moral default. Sebastian PH Speer, Ale Smidts and Maarten AS Boksem. Journal of Neuroscience (2021) .DOI: https: //doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0666-21.2021
Photo: Luis Villasmil on Unsplash.