Every day, we are faced with the conflict between the temptation to cheat for financial gains and maintaining a positive image of ourselves as being a ‘good person’. While it has been proposed that cognitive control is needed to mediate this conflict between reward and our moral self-image, the exact role of cognitive control in (dis)honesty remains elusive. Here, we identify this role, by investigating the neural mechanism underlying cheating. We developed a novel task which allows for inconspicuously measuring spontaneous cheating on a trial-by-trial basis in the MRI scanner. We found that activity in the Nucleus Accumbens promotes cheating, particularly for individuals who cheat a lot, while a network consisting of Posterior Cingulate Cortex, Temporoparietal Junction and Medial Prefrontal Cortex promotes honesty, particularly in individuals who are generally honest. Finally, activity in areas associated with Cognitive Control (Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Inferior Frontal Gyrus) helped dishonest participants to be honest, whereas it promoted cheating for honest participants. Thus, our results suggest that cognitive control is not needed to be honest or dishonest per se, but that it depends on an individual’s moral default.

dishonesty, cognitive control, reward anticipation, self-referential thinking, fMRI
dx.doi.org/10.1101/2020.01.23.907634, hdl.handle.net/1765/126159
Department of Marketing Management

Speer, S.P.H, Smidts, A, & Boksem, M.A.S. (2020). When honest people cheat, and cheaters are honest. In BioRXiv. doi:10.1101/2020.01.23.907634