..a long-standing paradox concerning the cognitive nature of honesty: Is it a matter of “will” or “grace”? The will hypothesis assumes that honesty requires cognitive control to suppress temptation to cheat, while dishonest behavior to serve self-interest is people’s automatic response. In contrast, the grace hypothesis assumes that honesty flows automatically without active resistance to temptation, while dishonest behavior is realized by cognitive control to override honest impulses.Here is the Speer et al. abstract:
Every day, we are faced with the conflict between the temptation to cheat for financial gains and maintaining a positive image of ourselves as being a “good person.” While it has been proposed that cognitive control is needed to mediate this conflict between reward and our moral self-image, the exact role of cognitive control in (dis)honesty remains elusive. Here we identify this role, by investigating the neural mechanism underlying cheating. We developed a task which allows for inconspicuously measuring spontaneous cheating on a trial-by-trial basis in the MRI scanner. We found that activity in the nucleus accumbens promotes cheating, particularly for individuals who cheat a lot, while a network consisting of posterior cingulate cortex, temporoparietal junction, and medial prefrontal cortex promotes honesty, particularly in individuals who are generally honest. Finally, activity in areas associated with cognitive control (anterior cingulate cortex and inferior frontal gyrus) helped dishonest participants to be honest, whereas it enabled cheating for honest participants. Thus, our results suggest that cognitive control is not needed to be honest or dishonest per se but that it depends on an individual’s moral default.