The neurobiology of deception: evidence from neuroimaging and loss-of-function studies

Curr Opin Neurol. 2009 Dec;22(6):594-600. doi: 10.1097/WCO.0b013e328332c3cf.


Purpose of review: Visualization of how the brain generates a lie is now possible because of recent conceptual and technical advances in functional neuroimaging; this has led to a rapid increase in studies related to the cognitive neuroscience of deception. The present review summarizes recent work on the neural substrates that underlie human deceptive behavior.

Recent findings: Functional neuroimaging studies in healthy individuals have revealed that the prefrontal cortex plays a predominant role in deception. In addition, recent evidence obtained from loss-of-function studies with neuropsychological investigation and transcranial direct current stimulation has demonstrated the functional contribution of the prefrontal cortex to deception. Other research into the relationship between deception and the brain has focused on the potential use of functional MRI for lie detection, neural correlates of pathological lying, and brain mechanisms underlying inference of deceit by others.

Summary: Converging evidence from multiple sources suggests that the prefrontal cortex organizes the processes of inhibiting true responses and making deceptive responses. The neural mechanisms underlying various other aspects of deception are also gradually being delineated, although the findings are diverse, and further study is needed. These studies represent an important step toward a neural explanation of complex human deceptive behavior.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping*
  • Deception*
  • Humans
  • Lie Detection
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Neurobiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / blood supply
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods