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By Tanya Lewis, Staff Writer   |   October 03, 2013 02:05pm ET

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brain stimulation
Electrically stimulating the brain can make people comply with social rules more or less, depending on whether they could be punished.
Credit: Human brain image via Shutterstock

From dress codes to anti-incest laws, all human societies have social norms that specify how people should behave in various situations. Scientists have now shown that a zap of electricity to the brain can influence whether people choose to comply with these norms or not.

“The complexity of human interactions is so big, so independent, that our society wouldn’t function without norms, said study researcher Christian Ruff, an economics professor at the University of Zurich, in Switzerland. “Even though humans are very good at following norms, we’re always tempted to break them. We need punishment threats to follow correctly,” Ruff told LiveScience.

A previous study using function magnetic resonance imaging showed that the right lateral prefrontal cortex (rLPFC) is activated when people follow social norms to avoid being punished. Ruff and colleagues wondered if stimulating this area could make people more or less sensitive to the threat of punishment. [The 10 Most Destructive Human Behaviors]

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