Every day, everywhere, people make unethical choices ranging from minor selfish lies to massive frauds, with dramatic individual and societal costs.
Embodied cognition theories posit that even seemingly abstract processes (like grammar) may be biased by the body-related signals used for building and maintaining self-consciousness, the fundamental experience of owning a body (ownership) and being the author of an action (agency), that is at the basis of self-other distinction.
Applying this framework to morality, we hypothesize that strengthening or weakening participants’ bodily self-consciousness towards virtual avatars or real others will influence dishonesty in real, virtual, and web-based interactions.
To test this hypothesis, we will measure:
i) individual dishonesty after modifying body ownership (e.g. by changing the appearance of the virtual body) and agency (e.g. by changing the temporal synchrony between participant’s and avatar’s actions) over an avatar through which decisions are made;
ii) intergroup dishonesty after inducing inter-individual sharing of body self-consciousness (e.g. blur self-other distinction via facial visuo-tactile stimulation);
iii) individual and intergroup dishonesty by manipulating exteroceptive (e.g. the external features of a virtual body) or interoceptive (e.g. changing the degree of synchronicity between participant’s and avatar/real person’s breathing rhythm) bodily inputs.
Dishonesty will be assessed through novel ecological tasks based on virtual reality and web-based interactions. Behavioural (e.g. subjective reports, kinematics), autonomic (e.g. heartbeat, thermal imaging) and brain (e.g. EEG, TMS, lesion analyses) measures of dishonesty will be recorded in healthy and clinical populations.
Our person-based, embodied approach to dishonesty complements cross-cultural, large-scale, societal investigations and may inspire new strategies for contrasting dishonesty and other unethical behaviours.
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