Past historical events and experimental research have shown that complying with orders from an authority has a strong impact on harming/destructive behavior, but no one has ever looked into the potential intervention and its neural underpinning to reveal the toll of coercion. We used a paradigm of virtual obedience to authority, in which an experimenter ordered a volunteer to press a handheld button to initiate actions that carried different consequences, including harming or helping others. In this study, we scanned the brain with functional neuroimaging and applied transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to modulate the activation of the right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ) in healthy volunteers in a single-blinded, sham-controlled, crossover trial with anodal, cathodal, and sham stimulation. We observed that cathodal stimulation, compared to anodal and sham stimulation, significantly reduced reaction times (RTs) to initiating harming actions. The effect of tDCS on the rTPJ, orbitofrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex had opposite directions depending on coercive harming or helping actions. Cathodal tDCS-induced changes in the strength of the functional connectivity between the rTPJ and amygdala predicted the effect of cathodal tDCS on harming RTs. The findings provide evidence supporting the rTPJ having a role in coercion-induced changes in the sense of agency. Neuromodulation with tDCS might help in unveiling the power of authority and assisting in the emergence of prosocial behavior, thus shedding light on coping strategies against coercion beyond merely examining its effects.
|Journal||Human Brain Mapping|
|State||Accepted/In press - 2022|
- right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ)
- sense of agency