(ORDO NEWS) — Researchers at the HSE Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience have shown how brain function changes depending on whether a person is dealing with shared or private natural resources. An essential role in this is played by the so-called pleasure center – the ventral striatum.
In some parts of the ocean, stocks of commercial fish species have declined by 95 percent, while private fish farms do not transfer livestock.
Why do people destroy common natural resources without hesitation, but anxiously take care of their private possessions? An international team of researchers has attempted to elucidate the brain behind this paradoxical disregard for the public interest.
The researchers (whose team included scientists from the HSE Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience ) combined neurobiological, economic and mathematical approaches.
Using magnetic resonance imaging, they scanned 50 subjects who participated in the economic game. The computer game simulated fishing in either a private pond or a public lake.
The number of fish in the lake varied depending on the size of the nets used by the player. The participants of the game could sell the caught fish and get a real cash reward for it.
The player has also experienced either natural fish migration (in a private lake) or other fishermen catching it (in a public lake). Researchers have looked at how our brains react to a decline in fish populations in public and private waters.
Scans showed that the sharp reduction of fish in the lake suppressed the activity of the ventral striatum, an area of the brain that, due to its high content of the neurotransmitter dopamine, is sometimes called the pleasure center.
Thus, for our brain, the reduction of a natural resource is an unpleasant event, and the activity of the pleasure center is sharply suppressed. However, a deeper analysis showed that the pleasure center in our brain reacts differently to the reduction of private and public resources.
When the subjects fished in their own lake, neuronal activity in the pleasure center rather tracked the optimal number of fish in the lake, which allowed them to be saved. Therefore, when during the experiment the participants observed a sharp decrease in fish in their own lake, they began to reduce fishing.
But while fishing in a public lake, the same area of \u200b\u200bthe brain followed a completely different one – how much more fish were caught by rivals.
And therefore, if the subjects saw how fish disappears in a public reservoir due to overfishing by rivals, they, on the contrary, acted even more actively, quickly destroying the entire resource.
Brain activity indicates that it is the comparison of our income with the income of others – our envy – that increases the destruction of a social resource. In 1968, Garrett Hardin described a typical Scottish farming community in which a community pasture was being destroyed by overuse.
It is to the advantage of every farmer to graze his livestock on public land as often as possible, increasing his own income. Unfortunately, even today people put such common natural resources into disrepair.
Our results showed that brain function changes depending on whether we are dealing with shared or private natural resources. It is important to understand the subtle mechanisms of human tendencies to overexploit natural resources. Perhaps this will allow us to consider measures for their conservation.
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