We have based our society on the assumption that deciding to lie or to tell the truth is within our conscious control. But […] this assumption may be flawed and […] honesty may instead be the result of controlling a desire to lie (a conscious process) or of not feeling the temptation to lie in the first place (an automatic process).
An intriguing idea and one with far-reaching consequences, especially given that this is on what our entire judiciary system is based. Can someone fairly be punished for a genetic trait (innate lying)?
So is the desire to lie (or, conversely, the desire to be honest) innate, and if so, what does this mean?
What they found is that honesty is an automatic process-but only forÂ some people. Comparing scans from tests with and without the opportunityÂ to cheat, the scientists found that for honest subjects, deciding to beÂ honest took no extra brain activity. But for others, the dishonestÂ group, both deciding to lie and deciding to tell the truth requiredÂ extra activity in the areas of the brain associated with criticalÂ thinking and self-control.
One surprising finding from this study reveals the complexity [we] face in trying to dissect moral behavior: The decision to lie forÂ personal gain turns out to be a strikingly unemotional choice. SomeÂ moral dilemmas Greene studies, like the trolley problem, triggerÂ emotional processing centers in our brains. In his coin toss experiment,Â there was no sign at all that emotions factored into a subject’sÂ decision to lie or to tell the truth. “Moral judgment is not a singleÂ thing,” Greene concludes, suggesting that although we often lump themÂ together under the heading of “morality,” deciding what’s right or wrongÂ and deciding to tell the truth or to tell a lie may, in some situations,Â be entirely disconnected processes.
On a related note:Â the classic Good Samaritan study.