Study: Brains of Selfish People Immediately Seek to Exploit Others

The science behind selfish behavior has been revealed, and it's pretty disturbing.


Everyone wants to get ahead, but how we do that and to what extent says a lot about us. A recent study by the University of Pécs in Hungary shows the neuroscience behind people who are opportunistic, exploitative, and suspicious. Called “Machiavellians” by psychologists and “politicians” by most, this personality type is naturally bad at playing with others. Like Reese Witherspoon in the movie Election, these people will do anything to get ahead and have a callous disregard for other people’s feelings. The study shows in startling detail the inner workings of Machiavellians brains.

[W]hen you show calculating people what they expect — that you are ready to exploit their vulnerabilities for self-gain — there is no sign of surprise.

In the study, a group of people both low and high on the Machiavellian scale played a game with, unbeknownst to them, a computer. The computer sometimes played fairly and sometimes did not, but when it was playing fairly, the Machiavellian brain lit up in key areas. Researchers say as soon as someone demonstrates fairness — in this case, a confederate computer — Machiavellians start finding ways to exploit it.

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