Cheating: Nature of automatic urges more decisive than ability to control them. (Study, in ScientificAmerican)

“A new brain imaging study by Josh Greene and Joe Paxton at Harvard University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that what separates the well-behaved from the poorly-behaved might not be the ability to control your temptations but rather what kind of temptations you have. For example, foregoing the opportunity for short-term gain and satisfaction, whether it is a delicious slice of tiramisu or that wallet stuffed with cash you stumbled across in the empty parking lot, will depend more on the nature of your automatic urges than your ability to control them. […]

Greene and Paxton were interested in why people behave honestly when confronted with the opportunity to anonymously cheat for personal gain. They considered two possible explanations. First, there is the “Will” hypothesis: in order to behave honestly people must actively resist the temptation to cheat. In other words, returning the wallet depends on your ability to stifle your desire to take the cash and buy yourself something nice. Alternatively, there is the “Grace” hypothesis: honest behavior results from the absence of temptation. Returning the wallet requires no particular ability to control your treacherous urges – the urge simply isn’t there.”

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=new-science-temptation

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