You might expect that deep inside the human cortex, the brain generally acts to maximize rewards for itself. But new research shows that the same part of the brain that lights up when a person is rewarded for their work, the striatum, responds more when that award is fair. This suggests that we have an inbuilt idea of fairness as well as a learned one. The researchers, led by Alexander Cappelen at the University of Bergen in Norway, had volunteers perform routine office work for various amounts of time. Then the subjects were put in an MRI machine and told their monetary reward would be split with another participant. This unequal split sometimes reflected the amount each had worked, and sometimes didn't. When someone found they were receiving more money, the striatum lit up — but it lit up even more when they had worked longer than the other person. In other words, the brain perceived the fairness of the division at a very low level. "This may explain why a lot of people are willing to sacrifice monetary rewards when this results in a fairer balance," Cappelen explained.
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