Modulating prefrontal control in humans reveals distinct pathways to competitive success and collective waste

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Abstract

Competitive decision making may require controlling and calculative mind-sets. We examined this possibility in repeated predator–prey contests by up- or down-regulating the individual’s right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG), a brain region involved in impulse inhibition and mentalizing. Following brain stimulation, subjects invested as predator or prey against a non-treated antagonist. Relative to sham-treatment (i) prey-defense was relatively frequent, strong and unaffected by stimulation, (ii) down-regulating predator rIFG produced a high-firing strategy—predators earned more because they attacked more frequently, while (iii) up-regulating predator rIFG produced a track-and-attack strategy—predators earned more because they attacked especially when their (non-stimulated) antagonist lowered its prey-defense. Results suggest that calculative mindsets are not needed to compete effectively, especially not when the goal is to survive. Enhanced prefrontal control enables individuals to appear less aggressive without sacrificing competitive effectiveness—it provides human predators with an iron fist in a velvet glove.

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