Scientists identify brain center for "fairness" in humans

A study by Ruff, Ugazio and Fehr (2013) published online this week suggests that an electrical current directed toward a patch of the brain on the right side of the head, the right lateral prefrontal cortex (rLPFC), can influence compliance with social norms. The scientists show that the rLPFC is involved in voluntary and sanction based norm compliance, and that both of these types of compliance can be modulated by changing the neural excitability of this brain region using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). 

The scientists had the subjects play a money-sharing game (usually employed in studies assessing altruism, cooperation and fairness in humans) in which participants could decide whether to: a) share their money with another player who received less without risk (baseline round) or b) share less money and risk receiving sanctions (aka have their money taken away) by the other player (punishment round). Participants played this game with real money while a positive, negative, or sham (placebo) electrode was placed directly over their rLPFC. Normally, when a player is undergoing the punishment round, they were more likely to share more money with another player. However, depending on the direction of the current, participants in such a game shared more or less money, apparently becoming more or less sensitive to the social norm of being fair. Furthermore, activating the rLPFC with tDCS only made people more norm-compliant under conditions in which the subject faced a risk of punishment, suggesting that the rLPFC allows participants to flexibly adjust their behavior to the presence or absence of punishment threats. 


Culotta, Elizabeth. (October 4, 2013). Brain Stimulation Sparks Machiavellian Choices. 

Ruff, C.C., Ugazio, G. and Fehr E.  (2013). Changing Social Norm Compliance With Noninvasive Brain Stimulation. Science. 

Compliance || Edea & John

Eternian winters were the worst. Even though Edea had grown up in this kingdom all her life, the young queen still did not approve of the bitter chill that came with the dying season. If she could command John to change the weather, she would.

Still, at least her bedroom was warm. The fireplace radiated the perfect amount of heat to fill her moderately-sized chambers, and she was more than willing to curl up in her blankets on the floor in front of it while looking over a few papers. It was nice.

Certainly nicer than what John was experiencing, probably seeing as how she had tasked him with checking in on all the soldiers on the castle walls to make sure they weren’t slacking off. She tried not to grin too hard at the thought, especially when he came into the room a moment later.

"I take it the inspection went well?" she mused, not looking at him as she shuffled her papers to skim a fresh page.

Once a group is defined as inferior, the superiors tend to label it as defective or substandard in various ways…

It follows that subordinates are described in terms of, and encouraged to develop, personal psychological characteristics that are pleasing to the dominant group…submissiveness, passivity, docility, dependency, lack of initiative, inability to act, to decide, to think, and the like…qualities more characteristic of children…If subordinates adapt these characteristics they are considered well-adjusted…

It is perhaps unnecessary to add that the dominant group usually holds all of the open power and authority and determines the ways in which power may be acceptably used.

—  Jean Baker Miller, Toward a New Psychology of Women

"What did Janie learn that day? I’ll give you a hint: it was not that people are more trusting of those who make good eye contact. It was not that she will appear more normal and thus fit into society better if she makes good eye contact. It wasn’t even that Mom really loves it when Janie connects with her through the eyes like that.

Janie learned that adults can have whatever they want from her, even if it hurts and even if they have to hurt her to get it. Janie learned that her body does not belong to her and that she has to give others access to it at any time, for any reason, even if she wasn’t doing anything that could hurt herself or others. Janie learned that there is no point in resisting and that it is her job to let others do what they want with her body, no matter how uncomfortable it makes her. “

by Sparrow Rose Jones at Unstrange Mind