What goes on in the brain of the groom who says “I do,” then has an affair? Or the friend who pledges to repay a loan but never does? Breaking a promise is a complex neurobiological event, a new study shows–and a brain scan may be able to predict those who are making false promises before they break their word.
Using functional MRI, scientists at the University of Zurich in Switzerland scanned the brains of subjects playing an investment game. Subjects assigned to be “investors” had to decide whether to pledge to share their money with other players who were “trustees.” This arrangement boosted the amount of money in the pot, but it also could result in a loss to the investor if the trustee chose not to share. Nearly all the subjects said they would give to the trustee–but in the end, not everyone kept this promise.