With what awareness do we make selfish choices?
About the episode
Some choices we make are good for us, but not so good for others. And some are worse for us, but better for others. How do we manage these choices?
Are we perhaps learning to ignore the negative consequences when we make selfish choices? Or do we make these choices very consciously?
To find out, Dutch researchers conducted an experiment. Subjects always had to choose between two symbols. One was 80% sure of winning a big cash prize, but it also resulted in a painful shock for another test subject with 80% certainty. A second symbol gave a low amount in 80% of cases, but also resulted in a much less painful shock.
As expected, after the consequences of their choices became clearer, there were both people who still mostly chose one symbol and people who mostly chose the other symbol. But what they wanted to know was: what is going through the minds of people who are concerned above all with profit? Are they closing something consciously or unconsciously to deal with this?
What they found was that these subjects remained aware that this was having negative consequences for others. They could see it from activity in the region of the brain in which other people’s pain is processed. It just continued. Not very useful if your main goal is profit.
The reason this isn’t removed, the researchers say, is likely that we can react quickly to changing circumstances. If they removed the financial incentive, this group also switched to the other, less painful symbol. Usually then.
Now researchers want to see what’s going on in the brains of people who show a lot of antisocial behavior in their daily lives.
Learn more here: How to deal with morally contradictory results?
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