How does the brain manipulator?

Manipulators, cynics, liars, they despise morality, and in what does not put the interests of others. This set of personality characteristics in psychology is called Machiavellianism. What does that mean in terms of neuroscience?

How does the brain manipulator?

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Do any of us, to be honest, there is a selfish goal: to make more money, make a career, to win the competition ... the list at everyone. Still, most of us do not forget at the same decency and at times behave like altruists. For example, if someone helps us, we will try to respond in kind, sacrificing if necessary, and your time and money.

But there are people for whom these rules do not exist, those who see others only as a tool to achieve their goals. And here all good - whether it's treachery, betrayal, stab in the back. Their principle - every man for himself, can not trust anyone.

In psychology, a personality trait called Machiavellianism. Its features - manipulative behavior, unscrupulousness, cynicism, caring only about their own interests, deceit. Machiavellianism is part (along with narcissism and psychopathy) in the so-called "dark triad", which unites the negative, malicious personality traits. There is also a special text to the level of Machiavellianism, developed in the 1970s by psychologists at Columbia University, Richard Christie (Richard Christie) and Florence Geis (Florence L. Geis). It is a set of statements with which responder can agree or disagree. People with high levels of "Machiavellianism" are more likely to recognize a true statement like "Flatter important people - wise" and "The best way to build relationships with people - to tell them what they want to hear." Recently, a team of Hungarian researchers from Pécs University conducted an experiment with the participation of people who have passed this test 1. The subjects had to play the game on trust, and in the process they scanned the brains of the game. It was found that the brain "Machiavellian" started to work with a vengeance, when they met a partner who has demonstrated a willingness to play fair and to cooperate. Why? They immediately started to figure out how to get out of this situation for the benefit of themselves.

The game had four stages, it was attended by students, some of whom had high, and some - the lowest possible score on the scale of "Machiavellianism". First, participants were given sum of money, equal to about $ 5, and they needed to decide how to "invest" in their partner. And he was getting three times more than they invested. Then partner had to decide how much money to bring back.

The trick was that the partner in the game has not been any other student (participants thought). This role was played by a computer that was programmed to select one of two options - "honest" (return roughly the same amount of plus or minus 10%) or explicitly "dishonest" (to return a third less). For example, if the participant has invested in partner $ 1, 6, "honest partner" return about $ 1, 71, and "dishonest" - about $ 1, 25.

Then partners switch roles. Now the computer has invested a certain amount, which is increased in three times, and party-people to decide how much to return. Accordingly, he has a chance to punish the partner for dishonest behavior or reciprocate his honest cooperation. It is not difficult to guess that the "Machiavellian" in the end of the game had more money than the other students. Here's how it happened. On the one hand, the two groups of participants to "punish" the partner of cheating. But the "Machiavellian", unlike others, is not reciprocated on fair play.

Brain activity in two groups were also varied significantly. In particular, the "Machiavellian" observed a significantly greater surge of brain activity when they discover that their partner is playing fair. For others it was the opposite: they occurred much larger spike in brain activity when they saw that the partner is playing fair. Honesty is a special partner's reaction was not - most likely because they, like most of us, seen as a position of mutual honesty.

Exactly how the brain reacted zone? When partners are honest, "Machiavellian" has an unusually high activity in the areas associated with inhibition (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) and creativity (middle temporal gyrus). According to the authors, the explanation is that they suppress the natural human instinct to respond to honesty honesty, displacing any emotional reaction, and simultaneously calculates how best to benefit from the partner's honesty.

However, neuroscientists do not like such "reverse inference" that the observed brain activity is interpreted using the information on the responsibilities of his plots, obtained in previous studies. On the other hand, the observation of researchers are consistent with their own past work. For example, even though psychologists say that "Machiavellian" poorly developed empathy (in particular, they are not able to look at the situation through the eyes of another person), there is evidence that they are constantly evaluate the behavior of others in social situations to themselves be benefit.

In general, the brain "Machiavellian" weakly reacts to a bad attitude to them - they are anything else and do not expect. However, if they notice signs of honesty or inclination to cooperate, their brain is immediately activated and starts to think of how you can use it to their advantage.

1 T. Bereczkei et al. "The neural basis of the Machiavellians' decision making in fair and unfair situations", Brain and Cognition, Vol. 98, August 2015.