The development of civilization required homo sapiens to acknowledge and respect fundamental social norms. Sometimes the norms mean that we have to suffer for the community good — an action that goes against some of our evolutionary roots.
Now, using technology, researchers are learning how the brain is able to adapt and go against our own economic self-interest and egoistic impulses.
Researchers have discovered that neuronal networks are behind self-control. They published their findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
In the study, scientists used both transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) methods and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Researchers discovered that people only punish norm violations at their own expense if the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — an important area for control located at the front of the brain — is activated.
This control entity must also interact with another frontal region, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, for punishment to occur.
The communication between these two frontal regions of the brain also supports earlier investigations that determined the ventromedial prefrontal cortex encodes the subjective value of consumer goods and normative behavior.
As neuroscientist Thomas Baumgartner explains, it seems plausible that this brain region might also encode the subjective value of a sanction. This value increases through the communication with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
Baumgartner and other researchers discovered that the communication between the two brain regions becomes more difficult if the activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is reduced. This in turn makes punishing norm violations at your own expense significantly more difficult.
Experts believe the results could be important in the therapeutic use of the noninvasive brain stimulation method in psychiatric and forensic patients.
Patients who exhibit strong antisocial behavior also frequently display reduced activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
This region of the brain, however, is not directly accessible for noninvasive brain stimulation, as its location is too deep inside the brain.
The results of the current study suggest that the activity in this region of the brain could be increased if the activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex were increased with the aid of brain stimulation.
Researchers believe this would indirectly induce increase in the activity of the frontal brain regions which could help improve prosocial and fair behavior.
Source: University of Zurich