May 08, 2011
Common Drugs Reduce Feelings Of Unfairness?

An anti-anxiety drug reduces the odds people will respond to unfair treatment by trying to punish the perpetrator.

[PRESS RELEASE, 4 May 2011] A new study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden shows that the brain has built-in mechanisms that trigger an automatic reaction to someone who refuses to share. The reaction derives from the amygdala, an older part of the brain. The subjects' sense of justice was challenged in a two-player money-based fairness game, while their brain activity was registered by an MR scanner. When bidders made unfair suggestions as to how to share the money, they were often punished by their partners even if it cost them.

The drug in question probably does this by inhibiting the amygdala part of the brain.

A drug that inhibits amygdala activity subdued this reaction to unfairness.

An anti-anxiety drug increases the willingness to accept perceived unfairness.

In the present study, the subjects were either given the anti-anxiety tranquilliser Oxazepam or a sugar pill (placebo) while playing the Ultimate Game. The researchers found that those who had received the drug showed lower amygdala activity and a stronger tendency to accept an unfair distribution of the money - this despite the fact that when asked, they still considered the suggestion unfair.

Has the use of anti-anxiety drugs increased the level of unfairness in developed countries? Benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs include such familiar names as Librium, Valium, Xanax, Atvan, Klonopin. They all might increase your willingness to accept unfair treatment in relationships, business dealings, jobs, and courts. Anti-anxiety drugs are used extensively.

In 2008, 85 million prescriptions were filled for the top 20 benzodiazepines, an increase of 10 million over 2004, according to IMS Health, a health-care information company based in Norwalk, Conn.

Even the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Zoloft and Paxil are used in treatment of anxiety disorders.

Men especially are made less aggressive and more willing to go along with unfair distributions of money when on Oxazepam.

In the control group, the tendency to react aggressively and punish the player who had suggested the unfair distribution of money was directly linked to an increase in activity in the amygdala. A gender difference was also observed, with men responding more aggressively to unfair suggestions than women and showing a correspondingly higher rate of amygdalic activity. This gender difference was not found in the group that received Oxazepam.

This also has implications for the future evolution of the human species. When prospective parents gain the ability to choose between potential offspring genetic sequence variants will they choose variants that make for more or less amygdala activity? The willingness to dole out altruistic punishment could become more or less prevalent in genetically engineered humans. I see the instinctive desire to carry out altruistic punishment as a necessary trait to maintain a safe and healthy society.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 May 08 11:37 AM  Brain Altruism


Comments
James Bowery said at May 9, 2011 6:03 AM:

What if the unfairness of the situation is to frustrate the impulse for altruistic punishment? Eusocial species deal with their "civilizations" by making sex a mere vestige. A consequence of this is that males no longer function as males. However they accomplish this biologically. Civilization pretends that humans are a eusocial species but does so culturally more than biologically. The 10,000 year explosion is still doing its work. This "work" is inherently unfair as it puts humanity through a selection event of such magnitude that it will emerge sexless and probably not even recognizably human. Civilization is structurally unfair so it needs to selectively suppress altruistic punishment -- particularly in males. Yes this is a dilemma -- especially as huge populations try to escape from the torture via drugs -- the little day-to-day altruistic punishments doled out in daily life decrease and the little dastards -- the ones that the elite need suppressed -- run amok. A primordial example is a man who sees corruption in government or high places in the private sector and instinctively is impelled to challenge an elite dastard to go out into the pre-JudeoChristian Anglo Saxon forest; but of course that vestige of masculine altruistic punishment is the first thing that civilization outlaws. One attempt to deal with this is to domesticate the altruistic punishment impulse in males by taking a few of them and, in their tortured masculine state, turn them into attack dogs in law enforcement, military, etc. This, of course, makes the situation even worse as these tortured dogs go around basically expressing sadism toward the general populations they police.

Fat Man said at May 9, 2011 7:07 AM:

From: P.J. O'Rourke's new book, "Don't Vote, It Just Encourages The B*****".

"I have a twelve-year-old daughter, Muffin. All I hear is, "It's not fair! It's not fair! It's not fair!" I say to her, "Honey, you're cute. That's not fair. You're smart. That's not fair. You were born in the United States of America. That's not fair. Darling, you had better get down on your knees and pray to God that things don't start getting fair for you." -- P. 47-48.

Lou Pagnucco said at May 9, 2011 10:36 AM:

I think I agree with James.

It sure looks like a lot of anger is being intentionally misdirected from its proper targets toward the messengers who report the crimes. Note that the "liberal" Obama-Regime has increased the dangers of whistle blowing. It's unpleasant to extrapolate this trend.

Huxley's soma may be a good choice to assuage difficult people - cheaper than prison.
(I think colonial Brits were actually considering this approach for fractious colonial Indians.)

Aron said at May 9, 2011 10:38 AM:

So you have two perspectives, the economist type who would define rationality as accepting an unfair offer, and a precautionary evolutionist who thinks that evolution must have darn good reasons for rejecting it. And as we start mucking around with stuff that has been traditionally fixed, we're going to have to face this decision over and over. Fortunately, we know the winner. It's Charlie Sheen.

dick fuel said at May 10, 2011 8:13 AM:

watch the government put it in the water so we will wilingly submit our minds and bodies to their torture.

dick fuel said at May 10, 2011 8:15 AM:

go ahead, do a www.pubmed.com search on 'fluoride intelligence'.

drink up, debt slaves.

Assistant Village Idiot said at May 10, 2011 7:32 PM:

I have long wondered if we rebalance such long-developed traits at our peril. Genetic trait selection can have the same effect. We might to avoid the most aggressive or most passive genes in our children - do we want a world of middlers, then? How much do we want to muck with the balance at all, frankly.

So also in reducing perceived unpleasantness. Do we want to be more accepting of unfairness?

Dick fuel, it gets more confusing, and perhaps worse. A government that could/would do such things to its populace might decide to go the opposite route and make them hair-trigger easy to offend. Pretty easy to send them to war, then.

Doug Jones said at May 11, 2011 4:45 PM:

Soma!

Doug Jones said at May 11, 2011 4:48 PM:

AVI- and at that point you end up with the Reavers from Firefly, which were an accidental byproduct of trying to create a peaceful society through chemical means. Once again, life imitates art.

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