A person’s gut feelings often override their rational thoughts when they are faced with making an unethical financial decision, leading them to reject it even if making the "right decision” leaves them at a personal loss, new research suggests.
British researchers found that people who are more in tune with their bodies are more likely to reject unfair financial propositions because of their body’s physical response, according to a paper published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience.
"Humans are highly attuned to unfairness and we are sometimes required to weigh up the demands of maintaining justice with preserving our own economic self-interest," lead researcher Dr. Barney Dunn of the University of Exeter said in a university news release.
"At a time when ideas of fairness in the financial sector – from bankers' bonuses to changes to pension schemes - are being widely debated, it is important to recognize why some individuals rebel against perceived unfairness, whereas other people are prepared to accept the status quo," said Dr. Dunn.
Researchers from the University of Exeter, the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and the University of Cambridge, presented 51 participants a series of financial offers based on dividing 10 pounds ($16) between two people.
They found that while participants generally accepted an offer to split the money equally, participants frequently made irrational economic decisions by rejecting unfair offers, even though the fair decision left them with nothing.
The study was based on a well-known psychological test, the Ultimatum Game, that is designed to show gut reactions, particularly when decisions are made under time pressure with incomplete information.
During the game, researchers measured how the physical responses of each participant by recording how much they sweated through their fingertips and how much their heart rate changed.
Researchers determined how accurately participants are able to "listen" to their bodies by asking them to count their heartbeats, and compared participant answers with their actual heart rate recording.
Investigators found that participants who showed a bigger physical response to unfair offers tended to reject them more frequently, but only if they were more in tuned with what their bodies were telling them.
Researchers said that the latest findings adds to the growing evidence that the body can sometimes control the mind and influence how people think and feel, rather than the other way around.
"This research supports the idea that what happens in our bodies can sometimes shape how we think and feel in our minds. Everyday phrases like 'following your heart' and 'trusting your gut' can often, it seems, be accurate," Dunn said.
Researchers conclude that people who have strong gut-reactions and are more in tune with their own physical responses are more likely to reject unfair financial offers, even if the decision, they deem to be fair, results in personal losses.