Your Homunculus is Credulous

Thanks to the hard work and serendipity of Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, who was recently profiled in the New York Times, we know that our left brain homunculus is a storyteller. Our homunculi confabulate like crazy. Nevermind that the person in our head lacks basic information or essential plot elements: s/he will fashion a narrative or plausible sounding explanation regardless.

But our homunculi are not just liars and confabulators. They are also credulous and can easily be fooled into believing they intended to do something when they had no such intention. The setup for this experimental finding, by Margaret Lynn and colleagues, was surprisingly simple.

Test subjects sat in front of a computer screen. They thought they were connected to the computer through a phony brain-computer interface, which may have looked like this:

The subjects were then told to move lines that appeared on the screen by thinking about moving the lines. Although the lines did in fact move, the movement was caused by the experimenters. In some cases, the movement was frequent. In others, it was infrequent.

Under conditions of frequent line movement, participants reported more intentions to move lines. Under conditions of little movement, participants reported fewer intentions. Because the test subjects had absolutely no control over line movement, the results suggest we can be fooled into believing we intended something we didn’t.

While credulity may know some bounds, the bounds seem to be fairly elastic and easily manipulated.


Lynn, M., Berger, C., Riddle, T., & Morsella, E. (2010). Mind control? Creating illusory intentions through a phony brain–computer interface Consciousness and Cognition, 19 (4), 1007-1012 DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.05.007

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2 thoughts on “Your Homunculus is Credulous

  1. London Counselling

    Is it possible that in the case of pathological liars that the left brain and its ability to confabulate can completely take over the personality? Or that the left brain is so powerful that it dominates a child until they are old enough to differentiate between fact and fiction?
    This would certainly solve some very interesting psychological mysteries.

  2. Cris Post author

    I wish I knew enough to say. I do know that some split brain or lobotomized patients have been considered pathological liars until someone realized what was wrong. I “google-scholared”Gazzaniga’s professional papers the other day and didn’t see anything along these lines, but I’m sure someone has investigated the fascinating issues you raise. I really like the child development issue; it is rich with possibilities.

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