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Shock Therapy May Help Reduce Crime Rates

Update Date: Oct 07, 2013 12:25 PM EDT

Shocks to the brain could help reduce crime rates, a new study suggests.

New research has identified a brain region that makes people follow social etiquette. Scientists found that neurons in this brain region can be controlled by transcranial direct current stimulation, a therapeutic technique that sends weak, painless electric currents through the skull via electrodes on the scalp.

Researchers say the latest findings suggest that electric shock therapy could potentially stop hardened criminals from breaking the law.

"We found the brain mechanism responsible for compliance with social norms is separate from the processes that represent one's knowledge and beliefs about the social norm," said Economist Dr. Ernst Fehr, of the University of Zurich," according to PsychCentral. "This could have important implications for the legal system as the ability to distinguish between right and wrong may not be sufficient for the ability to comply with social norms."

The latest study involved 62 volunteers who participated in an experiment in which they received money and were asked to decide how much of it they wanted to share with an anonymous partner.

In another experiment, participants were asked to do the same thing. However, they knew in advance they would be punished if they did not fairly distribute the money.  During this experiment, researchers used transcranial direct current stimulation to increase or decrease neural activity in the right lateral prefrontal cortex.

"We discovered the decision to follow the fairness norm, whether voluntarily or under threat of sanctions, can be directly influenced by neural stimulation in the prefrontal cortex," said researcher Christian Ruff, according to the Daily Mail.

The findings revealed that participants followed the 'punishment' fairness norm more strongly when cells in this part of the brain were artificially stimulated. However, researchers noted that their voluntary generosity fell.

In contrast, participants followed the 'voluntary' fairness norm more strongly and less when they were expecting a punishment when scientists decreased neural activity in the right lateral prefrontal cortex.

"Our findings show a socially and evolutionarily important aspect of human behavior depends on a specific neural mechanism that can be both up and down regulated with brain stimulation," Ruff added.

The findings are published in the journal Science.

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