Contribution of self- and other-regarding motives to (dis)honesty

Anastasia Shuster*, Dino J. Levy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Why would people tell the truth when there is an obvious gain in lying and no risk of being caught? Previous work suggests the involvement of two motives, self-interest and regard for others. However, it remains unknown if these motives are related or distinctly contribute to (dis)honesty, and what are the neural instantiations of these motives. Using a modified Message Game task, in which a Sender sends a dishonest (yet profitable) or honest (less profitable) message to a Receiver, we found that these two motives contributed to dishonesty independently. Furthermore, the two motives involve distinct brain networks: the LPFC tracked potential value to self, whereas the rTPJ tracked potential losses to other, and individual differences in motives modulated these neural responses. Finally, activity in the vmPFC represented a balance of the two motives unique to each participant. Taken together, our results suggest that (dis)honest decisions incorporate at least two separate cognitive and neural processes—valuation of potential profits to self and valuation of potential harm to others.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15844
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020


FundersFunder number
National Science Foundation
United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation
Israel Science Foundation0612015023


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