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How the Brain Helps Us Deal with Unfairness

If you were offered five dollars out of twenty-five dollars, would you find that unfair? This is Science Today. Matthew Lieberman, an associate professor of psychology at UCLA used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to see what goes on inside the brain when we interpret unfairness.

Lieberman:     And we saw something very interesting here. On the one hand, we saw sometimes people showed greater activity in that insult region of the brain, the anterior insula, and when they did, they tended to reject those offers. But there were some folks who had a tendency to accept those unfair but desirable offers and when that happened, we instead saw a region of the prefrontal cortex that was more active and to the extent that it was, we saw that potential insult response diminish. So, what we see here is people engaging in some kind of self-control, it appears, so that they can take the long-term good, which is the money, and allow themselves to be OK with the psychological insult that they've received.

Narrator:        For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.