Different neural mechanisms underlie non-habitual honesty and non-habitual cheating

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There is a long-standing debate regarding the cognitive nature of (dis)honesty: Is honesty an automatic response or does it require willpower in the form of cognitive control in order to override an automatic dishonest response. In a recent study (Speer et al., 2020), we proposed a reconciliation of these opposing views by showing that activity in areas associated with cognitive control, particularly the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), helped dishonest participants to be honest, whereas it enabled cheating for honest participants. These findings suggest that cognitive control is not needed to be honest or dishonest per se but that it depends on an individual’s moral default. However, while our findings provided insights into the role of cognitive control in overriding a moral default, they did not reveal whether overriding honest default behavior (non-habitual dishonesty) is the same as overriding dishonest default behavior (non-habitual honesty) at the neural level. This speaks to the question as to whether cognitive control mechanisms are domain-general or may be context specific. To address this, we applied multivariate pattern analysis to compare neural patterns of non-habitual honesty to non-habitual dishonesty. We found that these choices are differently encoded in the IFG, suggesting that engaging cognitive control to follow the norm (that cheating is wrong) fundamentally differs from applying control to violate this norm.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 9 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Dutch National e-Infrastructure with support of the SURF Cooperative.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Speer, Smidts, Boksem.

Copyright © 2021 Speer, Smidts, Boksem.

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