Why people don’t feel guilty about internet piracy? Neuroscientists might have an answer!!!

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https://pixabay.com

https://pixabay.com

Why do normally law abiding people indulge in online piracy and don’t nurture any guilty thoughts? 3 neuroscientists teamed up to explore this amazing question that strikes perhaps every internet user’s mind but owing to lack of research based data, there seems to be no conclusive answers until now.

So, Robert Eres, a Ph.D student in Social-Cognitive Neuroscience at ‘Monash University’ in Victoria, Australia, Dr Pascal Molenberghs, a senior lecturer at the School of Psychological Sciences also at ‘Monash University’, and Winnifred Louis, an Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at ‘The University of Queensland’ collaborated to produce a very interesting study about online piracy.

The study was based on below 3 hypothesis:

1) If we prioritise physical property over non-physical then we would expect people to be more willing to steal intangible items than tangible.

2) Intangible items will be more difficult to represent compared with tangible.

3) Stealing tangible items will lead to greater activation in brain areas typically involved in moral sensitivity such as the lateral orbitofrontal cortex compared to the stealing of intangible items.

Study 1 – Are we actually more willing to steal intangible items?

Below comparative data was obtained based on a survey asking the participants about their opinion about stealing tangible versus non-tangible products. Likelihood ratings for obtaining objects illegally on a 7 point Likert scale (1 = Very Unlikely, 7 = Very Likely) was used. So, higher means for the intangible conditions compared with tangible indicated that participants were more willing to steal intangible items compared with tangible items.

Study 1 – Are we actually more willing to steal intangible items?

Below comparative data was obtained based on a survey asking the participants about their opinion about stealing tangible versus non-tangible products. Likelihood ratings for obtaining objects illegally on a 7 point Likert scale (1 = Very Unlikely, 7 = Very Likely) was used. So, higher means for the intangible conditions compared with tangible indicated that participants were more willing to steal intangible items compared with tangible items.

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After testing the first hypothesis, the team of neuroscientists proceeded to study # 2. fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) was used to scan participants brains after asking the participants to imagine tangible versus intangible entertainment titles. This brain imaging experiment revealed that people’s brains were much more active when trying to imagine intangible compared to tangible objects, which suggests people have more difficulty with representing intangible items.

Study 2

As step # 3 of the study, the volunteers had to imagine illegally or legally obtaining different entertainment products such as movies, music, books, and software items. This study revealed that participants showed significantly more activation in the area of the brain associated with guilt – the lateral orbital frontal cortex – when imagining stealing a physical item. Meaning that lateral orbital frontal cortex was not fired up when the volunteers imagined stealing an intangible item such as online music but when a physical product such as DVD was imagined to be stolen, there was a significant activation in this part of the brain indicating the experiencing of guilt by the participants.

As per Mr. Eres, “The findings from the two brain imaging experiments suggest that people are processing the intangible and tangible objects very differently within their brains”.

According to Dr Molenberghs, “Evolutionarily, we have interacted more with physical goods – particularly in respect to ownership so that is why we are hardwired to respect these more compared to intangible items such as ideas or software”.

In conclusion, the study published by Mr Eres & team points to the phenomenon that our brains are programmed to perceive stealing of tangible things on the higher side of the unethical scale whereas stealing of intangible things is on the lower side. In addition to presenting scientific data about online piracy, this interesting study is also indicative of other unethical non-physical behavioural aspects such as online bullying, illegal hacking, stealing ideas, digital espionage, and mass surveillance.


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Author: Nilofer

Nilofer is an avid technology and social media buff. She loves to express her views on the hot topics in the digital world. Nilofer is particularly interested in investigating the subtle impacts of technology on our everyday lives

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