Human brain wired to spot cheaters

Sunday, August 25, 2002

The Washington Post

Humans are hard-wired to detect cheaters, according to new research.

Leda Cosmides and John Tooby of the University of California at Santa Barbara studied a patient, identified only as R.M., who had experienced damage to the limbic system, a part of the brain crucial for processing emotional and social information.

R.M. performed normally on tests that measured his ability to determine whether someone was following advice, such as: "If you do something dangerous, you must take a precautionary step first." But he did poorly on tests designed to measure his ability to detect whether someone was failing to follow a logically similar requirement, such as: "If you want to get some benefit, you must do something first."

The findings indicate that the ability to detect cheating does not depend only on general ability to reason, but also on some specific brain circuitry.

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