How the brain shapes deception: an integrated review of the literature

Neuroscientist. 2011 Oct;17(5):560-74. doi: 10.1177/1073858410393359. Epub 2011 Mar 30.


How do people tell a lie? One useful approach to addressing this question is to elucidate the neural substrates for deception. Recent conceptual and technical advances in functional neuroimaging have enabled exploration of the psychology of deception more precisely in terms of the specific neuroanatomical mechanisms involved. A growing body of evidence suggests that the prefrontal cortex plays a key role in deception, and some researchers have recently emphasized the importance of other brain regions, such as those responsible for emotion and reward. However, it is still unclear how these regions play a role in making effective decisions to tell a lie. To provide a framework for considering this issue, the present article reviews current accomplishments in the study of the neural basis of deception. First, evolutionary and developmental perspectives are provided to better understand how and when people can make use of deception. The ensuing section introduces several findings on pathological lying and its neural correlate. Next, recent findings in the cognitive neuroscience of deception based on functional neuroimaging and loss-of-function studies are summarized, and possible neural mechanisms underlying deception are proposed. Finally, the priority areas of future neuroscience research-human honesty and dishonesty-are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Deception*
  • Humans