Appraising Your Values

New research illuminates how the brain grapples with sacred beliefs and indecent proposals:

The brain imaging data showed a strong correlation between sacred values and activation of the neural systems associated with evaluating rights and wrongs (the left temporoparietal junction) and semantic rule retrieval (the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex), but not with systems associated with reward. "Most public policy is based on offering people incentives and disincentives," [lead author Gregory] Berns says. "Our findings indicate that it's unreasonable to think that a policy based on costs-and-benefits analysis will influence people's behavior when it comes to their sacred personal values, because they are processed in an entirely different brain system than incentives."

Put another way:

In short, when people didn’t sell out their principles, it wasn’t because the price wasn’t right. It just seemed wrong. “There’s one bucket of things that are utilitarian, and another bucket of categorical things,” [neuroscientist Greg Berns] said. “If it’s a sacred value to you, then you can’t even conceive of it in a cost-benefit framework.”