The neural basis of dishonest decisions that serve to harm or help the target

Brain Cogn. 2014 Oct:90:41-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2014.06.005. Epub 2014 Jun 28.


We conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study to elucidate the neurocognitive mechanisms of harmful and helpful dishonest decisions. During scanning, the subjects read scenarios concerning events that could occur in real-life situations and were asked to decide whether to tell a lie as though they were experiencing those events. Half of the scenarios consisted of harmful stories in which the dishonest decisions could be regarded as bad lies, and the other half consisted of helpful stories in which the dishonest decisions could be regarded as good lies. In contrast to the control decision-making task, we found that the decision-making tasks that involved honesty or dishonesty recruited a network of brain regions that included the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. In the harmful stories, the right temporoparietal junction and the right medial frontal cortex were activated when the subjects made dishonest decisions compared with honest decisions. No region discriminated between the honest and dishonest decisions made in the helpful stories. These preliminary findings suggest that the neural basis of dishonest decisions is modulated by whether the lying serves to harm or help the target.

Keywords: Deception; Dishonesty; Prefrontal cortex; Temporoparietal junction; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Deception*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Young Adult