Illegal downloads of copyrighted material are a huge problem. In fact, this is stealing the property of somebody else. However, for many, the perception is different than stealing a purse from a shop. The Australian Monash Institute for cognitive and clinical neuroscience did some research on this point which is very interesting to understand the difference in perception. Participants had to answer questions about the stealing of tangible and intangible items. During these interviews, their brains were scanned. One conclusion from this first test was that people have more difficulty to visualize intangible items, this contrary to physical items. A second scan followed whereas the orbitofrontal cortex was monitored. This part of the brains is responsible for the processing and the control of emotional stimuli. If there is a greater activity, it is often interpreted as a great moral sensitivity (which also suggests a greater sense of guilt). While thinking of stealing tangible items,there was far more activity with the participants than with stealing intangible items.
The conclusion is that intangibles items remain abstract for people and the perception is different. One explanation could be that in evolutionary terms people have always had much more interaction with physical goods in relation to property. Therefore, we are much more accustomed to respect ownership of physical things than with intangible things.
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