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Study Suggests Magnets Can Force You to Tell the Truth 320

Posted by samzenpus
from the refrigerator-of-truth dept.
Estonian researchers claim that magnets can either force you to lie or make it impossible. Subjects in the study had magnets placed at either the left or the right side of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the results suggest that the individual was either unable to tell the truth or unable to lie depending on which side was stimulated. From the article: "Last year, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also used powerful magnets to disrupt the area said to be the brain's 'moral compass,' situated behind the right ear, making people temporarily less moral."
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Study Suggests Magnets Can Force You to Tell the Truth

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:25AM (#37351842)

    ...how do they work?

  • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:25AM (#37351844)

    Just wait until Pistole hears of this.

  • by Dwonis (52652) * on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:25AM (#37351846)
    But how do they work?
  • Cell Phones (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:25AM (#37351850)

    "magnets to disrupt the area said to be the brain's 'moral compass,' situated behind the right ear, making people temporarily less moral"

    Is that why people on cell phones act like assholes?

    • by jamiesan (715069)
      Only people with the phones on their left (sinister) ear.
    • by hitmark (640295)

      acting like assholes and lying like the devil do not have to be synonymous. Some of the most habitual liars are very smooth social animals.

  • So...I thought it was strange that everybody said I was an ass hole after I took that 5 dollar bet to put the magnetic tape de-Gauzer to my temple and press the button!

  • by SirBitBucket (1292924) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:27AM (#37351870)
    Must be the pull of the North Pole influencing their moral compass...
    • by s_p_oneil (795792) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:45AM (#37352146) Homepage

      According to the article, it sounds like it would depend on whether they're facing east or west at the time. ;-)

      Although this bugs me:
      "The volunteers were presented a series of coloured discs, and told they could tell the truth or lie about the objects' colours while half were being stimulated on the left and half on the right. Results showed that the eight volunteers who had their left DPC stimulated lied more often, while the ones with the right DPC stimulated were more likely to tell the truth, researchers said."

      "More often" is nowhere close to "impossible". They don't say how much more, and it could be a very small percentage. If the percentage was large, I imagine the reporter would've put it in the article to make it sound more impressive and news-worthy (and the research team would've touted it loudly to get more interest and thus more funding). Also, there are no emotions or incentive involved in this case to lie or tell the truth and the subject knows it is a test, so it is more of a game than actually lying. Who knows what made the subjects change how they play the game? Maybe right-handed people get more annoyed by having magnets stuck to the left side of their head than the right side for some reason (right-handed people being the majority), and maybe the more annoyed the test subject is, the more likely they are to play the game negatively.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:27AM (#37351874)

    ...or feel my right arm.

  • The Feds will be very interested in this. If it pans out, expect portable versions deployed by police departments within five years.

    • by TheCarp (96830)

      I doubt it.... sure, you can prevent me from telling a lie...fine. Its no lie at all that I don't want to continue this conversation, and am unwilling to talk any more without a lawyer present. It is also completely true that I wish to remain silent.

      • by TheSpoom (715771)

        And yet the idiots on Cops talk (and consent to a search) every time. The majority of people seem to think they can talk their way out of a ticket / arrest, probably because they've been told they should always cooperate with police officers no matter what, and they figure not answering would be not cooperating.

        Police would still find plenty of uses for a device like this even though the smarter people will simply shut up like they should.

        • by Aladrin (926209)

          TV goes a long way to perpetuate that, too, by always showing nice, upstanding people talking to the police and only assholes refuse to talk.

        • by J'raxis (248192)

          And yet the idiots on Cops talk (and consent to a search) every time.

          Of course they do. Do you think the people who produce Cops are going to use the footage of the suspects who invoke their rights? It would make the cops look like idiots (or the bad guys, depending on how the cop reacts), and might teach people a thing or two about defending themselves against "authority" figures.

          The majority of people seem to think they can talk their way out of a ticket / arrest, probably because they've been told they s

      • by cobrausn (1915176) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:59AM (#37352368)
        Funny story.

        Friend of mine was driving back home from grad school for a short vacation. Got pulled over by some state troopers on the way home. Apparently he was driving a road that is frequented by drug runners from mexico and his little compact car was stuffed to the point of overflowing with random possessions. Trooper asks to search his car. He says no.

        Trooper then calls in a K-9 unit after mumbling something to himself, which walks around the car for many minutes without once alarming (barking). Obviously annoyed at this damned citizen who won't let him do what he wants, the trooper then moves my friend behind his police car and goes back to the car with the K-9 trooper. My friend sees them kick the car to get the dog to bark, and the troopers come over and inform him that the dog barking gives them right to search the car. They then spend the next half hour throwing his possessions all over the side of the highway. They found nothing and went on their way.

        Moral of the story is - it doesn't matter. The more authority we surrender, the more our 'rights' become meaningless in the face of an overwhelming corporate/government bureaucracy that protects its own rights over yours.
        • by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday September 09, 2011 @11:39AM (#37352890) Homepage

          For those thinking parent's story is just an anecdote and thus not evidence, here's a Chicago Tribune [chicagotribune.com] story on some real research into how common this practice is.

        • by sjames (1099)

          If our courts were at all sincere about protecting Constitutional rights, police would be required to apologize on the spot, put everything back where they found it, and pay for any damages immediately after any search. After all, innocent people should not have their stuff pawed through or damaged and the subject of a search has not been found guilty in a court of law.

          It would also take all the fun out of the process and so make it less likely to happen unless actually necessary.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:30AM (#37351924) Journal
    I find the claim that they were able to make people unable to tell the truth much more surprising than the one that they were able to make people unable to lie.

    While fun and useful, lying is somewhat cognitively demanding: You have to synthesize and deliver a contracfactual statement, you can't just remember it because it didn't happen. There has been some previous speculation that you should be able to detect lying, based on the greater mental effort(and distributed across more brain regions effort) involved, vs. the recall activity required to tell the truth.

    That you can knock-out truth-telling(without just inducing aphasia or amnesia temporarily, which is a bit heavy handed) is much more surprising.
    • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Informative)

      by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:44AM (#37352126) Homepage

      Yeah, I find the whole thing a bit dubious. It's not shocking to me that it might be possible to disrupt brain activity in such a way that a particular patient couldn't fabricate certain kinds of lies, but the idea that everyone's brain has a clear "lies on" and "lies off" switch that can be activated with a magnet.

      Reading one of TFA:

      The volunteers were presented a series of coloured discs, and told they could tell the truth or lie about the objects' colours while half were being stimulated on the left and half on the right.

      Results showed that the eight volunteers who had their left DPC stimulated lied more often, while the ones with the right DPC stimulated were more likely to tell the truth, researchers said.

      So it sounds like they were given the option of lying about something with no consequences, and they lied more often with one part of the brain stimulated. It doesn't say that it was "impossible" to lie, or even that it made it difficult to lie when strongly motivated to do so. Maybe it didn't directly cause them to be more likely to lie, but made them feel more whimsical or creative and likely to want to lie in a consequence-free environment.

      Then there's the much-overlooked difference between "not-lying" and "telling the truth". I can tell you something false because I'm mistaken, because I'm telling you a fictional story, or because I'm over-simplifying. None of those actions are deceptive in nature, but none of them are "telling the truth".

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Lying implies knowledge that you are intentional not telling the truth. Truthfully telling incorrect information is called 'a mistake'. sometime also could be 'Making bullshit up so as not to disturb my cognitive dissonance'

        And just so people know, this is MRI level magnetic field, not 'Magnets'.

        It does seem that people are less likely to lie. More research needed.

        • by hitmark (640295)

          Could be an effect similar to how various drugs (i include alcohol under that label) makes us disregard or lower our risk aversion.

          So when stimulated on one side, the persons reluctance to lie is heightened while the other lowers it.

          I wonder how it would affect diagnosed sociopaths tho.

    • by Aladrin (926209)

      They said they could encourage you to lie, not that they could force you not to be able to tell the truth. That's quite different.

      The article says they were more likely to lie, not that they had no choice. (Okay, the second article says they can force it... Sounds like spin to me. They have no idea what they're talking about.)

      Ditto for the truth telling, btw.

    • by jovius (974690)

      I find the claim that they were able to make people unable to tell the truth much more surprising than the one that they were able to make people unable to lie.

      The results are no wonder if you take account the fact that Estonians used to float on the electromagnetic cross currents of giant Russian and Western early warning radars.

    • by Dark$ide (732508)

      I find the claim that they were able to make people unable to tell the truth much more surprising than the one that they were able to make people unable to lie.

      Perhaps the authors of this bullshit research were using their don't tell the truth magnets when they wrote it up.

  • Screw metal plates, I'm getting a faraday cage installed into (in lieu of) my skull!

  • This experiment sounds like it should be easy for a DIYer to reproduce. I can rig up an electromagnet helmet to prevent any placebo effect (no changing headgear) and make it double-blind.

    • Depends on the strength of the magnet and whether or not the field needs to be oscillating in a particular way for it to work.

      The wonders of mass-produced rare-earth magnets have certainly brought ~1tesla surface strengths down into the realm of hobbyists, and you can get fairly punchy electromagnets with fairly basic tools; but if it requires bulk superconductors, cryogens, or reasonably precise high-frequency control of large currents, that can get tricky...
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Sigh.. It's an MRI level magnetic fields, not 'magnets' so no, you can't do it in your home. Unless you happen to be very wealthy.

  • Anybody know anything about them.
    The article itself is very sketchy:

    A random sampling of "16" ?
    No mention of how strong a magnet.
    Was there a "tendency" not to lie, or was it an on/off switch ?

  • I mean, seriously, I didn't know Elbonia was known for neuropsychological research ;-)

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Friday September 09, 2011 @10:36AM (#37351998)

    Modern neuroscience is killing any wiggle-room that might have remained regarding souls and free will. As I've mentioned before, neuroscientists, ethicists, and legal scholars are concerned that "my brain made me do it" will become a reasonable courtroom defense. (No, I'm not talking about the traditional "insanity defense".)

    We will eventually be forced to re-think a lot of cherished beliefs about brains, minds, and behavior.

    • by Toonol (1057698)
      Modern neuroscience is killing any wiggle-room that might have remained regarding souls and free will.

      'Souls' was always a nonsensical concept. Free will isn't being destroyed, though; just becoming a little more rigorously defined. You still decide what you do, it's just that the mechanism of how you do that is being nailed down. Past definitions of free will often included magic or randomness in an attempt to avoid causality. Instead, it needs to be reconciled with causality.
      • by Hatta (162192)

        You can't reconcile "free will" with causality. That's what the "free" means. If your will is subject to cause and effect, then it is not free.

    • I have dualist free will! It's just that, er, my acausal free-will soul-node-thing freely chooses to act precisely as though it were actually a lump of brain-meat wholly determined by physical causation! Disprove that, skeptics!
    • We will eventually be forced to re-think a lot of cherished beliefs about brains, minds, and behavior.

      That rather is the point of doing the research, is it not?

    • by geekoid (135745)

      There is still a strong argument for some free will.

      Right now, it looks like are day to day response may not actually be free will; but thinking and evaluate and changes response might be.

      But, yeah it is challenging everything about who we are, and in 2 decades we will have it pretty much known.
      Of course, it can't disprove the idea of a soul because there isn't any proof it exists now, so how will not having any proof later change someone belief?

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Dualism was destroyed by f=ma. Everything since has just been confirmation.

    • Yeap, but at the end of the day, you're still going to have to decide what to do. That is where your freedom (or the illusion thereof) comes from.

      Your brain is you more than anything else. If someone's brain forced them to do something, then their brain should be punished. Ted Bundy might have been utterly insane, but we can't leave people like that free on the street. Hopefully modern neuroscience will find ways to fix people like that.
      • by hitmark (640295)

        One mans crazy is another mans asset. Some of the best soldiers, for instance, may be unable to function inside your average society. But given them a battlefield and clear goals and they will thrive.

        Btw, i think there was a documentary on the Falklands war where a British soldier voiced the opinion that there was three kinds of soldier. The first was the kind that wet their pants and refused to leave the safety of cover at the first sign of danger. The second was the kind that ran at danger with a slasher

    • Since I am my brain then the argument "my brain made me do it" means that "I made me do it". I don't see how this kills the idea of free-will. Since I am the chemical and electrical processes in my brain then whatever causes them to do what they do IS me. There is no philosophical difference with the situation if you had a magical soul. After all, whatever would compose a magical soul has to follow some sort of rules to come up with whatever decision it makes, just as physics and chemistry underlie the deci
    • by brian0918 (638904)
      The only things modern neuroscience is killing are bogus philosophical notions such as the mind-body dichotomy and any variant of "free will" that claims an individual's mind should be able to perform any decision without regard for the current state of his brain (which is obviously a corollary to the mind-body dichotomy).

      Legitimate notions of "free will", which recognize that the mind is dependent on the brain for its existence and proper function, still remain.
    • by hitmark (640295)

      Such defenses will require us to rethink "punishments" as well.

      I think there is at least one neuro-scientist that suggests the focus should shift from from crass punishment to the criminals likelihood of repeating the offense, and tailoring the legal responses based on that.

      So if a medical examination suggests a high likelihood of repetition, various measures to reduce or remove that would come into effect. Still, there may be some crimes that are considered so hideous that anything other then zero chance o

  • OK, lets add this up.

    Results of study appear to be conclusive and immensely counter-intuitive? Check.
    Research is from a former Soviet bloc country? Check.
    Study size is small? 16 people, so check.
    No details on methodology? Check.
    Study is published in popular press, not peer-reviewed journal? Nope, Behavioural Brain Research is peer-reviewed and appears pretty legit.

    Well, if this is true and accurate, it could be completely ground-breaking in any number of fields. Fascinating if other teams are able to reprod

    • by geekoid (135745)

      And this may turn out to be junk science as well.

      TMS has many red flags. Cures a ton of different things, studies are always small, and the larges effect can only be found in meta studies.; however there is still plenty of room for study, and I hope the effects on the brain are real, and usable..

      IF the effects haven't been improved upon in 10 years, then it should be set aside and we should move on.

    • Nope, Behavioural Brain Research is peer-reviewed and appears pretty legit..

      It is legit, but it's an Elsevier journal which means it is just one of literally hundreds of low impact, not so difficult to get published journals. They are peer reviewed, but that doesn't mean the research is correct nor particularly interesting. It's also behind a paywall.... Sigh.

      The birdcage of research is papered with Elsevier journals....

  • It is actually the age old puzzle, "two doors, tiger behind one, princess behind the other. One guard always tells the truth, the other always lies. What question would you ask ...". Some poor Estonian tried to translate this puzzle from Sanskrit to Estonian and ended up writing it as a research paper instead.
    • The answer is simple, ask them nothing, walk away. The puzzle doesn't define that you have to talk to the guards, nor open a door, nor that finding the princess is better. Maybe you're Steve Irwin, Croc Hunter, looking for the exotic animal. Maybe you don't care. Maybe you are a woman and the guards are irresistibly cute, and happy that both are behind the door and can have both guards to yourself.

      The trick to the riddle is that it is founded on an entire series of common assumptions. The fact that we f

  • So I guess we could crowdsource honesty by sending people to a scrap yard and walking them under one of those auto magnets? Hopefully the percentage of people with metal plates in their heads and Borg implants won't be too high....

  • by XiaoMing (1574363) on Friday September 09, 2011 @11:35AM (#37352826)

    The next sentence was made with a magnet on my left hemisphere.

    The previous sentence was made with a magnet on my right hemisphere.

    Which one is tru-WHO GIVES A SHIT I HAVE NO MORALS WARWRWERWARWAAWKLERJA

  • wow (Score:4, Interesting)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Friday September 09, 2011 @11:41AM (#37352916) Journal

    It sounds about as credible as phrenology, so I'll await confirmation.

    But in the meantime, think about the impact this would have on society if there was truly a way (temporary, harmless) to prevent people from lying.

    How many marriages would survive?
    What would happen if 435 congressmen simultaneously "decided to retire...immediately"?

    Would the resulting society even be recognizable?

  • From TFA:
    "Spontaneous choice to lie more or less can be influenced by brain stimulation," researchers Karton and Bachmann wrote in Behavioural Brain Research.

    That's it. Based on a single study of 16 people in one test.

    This isn't news. It hardly qualifies as gossip.

  • That's not at all what the study showed/claimed/whatever. People were MORE LIKELY to tell the truth with the magnetic treatment. That's a far cry from force.

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