The path of dishonesty: identification of mental processes with electrical neuroimaging

Cereb Cortex. 2023 May 24;33(11):6693-6700. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhac535.


Much research finds that lying takes longer than truth-telling. Yet, the source of this response time difference remains elusive. Here, we assessed the spatiotemporal evolution of electrical brain activity during honesty and dishonesty in 150 participants using a sophisticated electrical neuroimaging approach-the microstate approach. This uniquely positioned us to identify and contrast the entire chain of mental processes involved during honesty and dishonesty. Specifically, we find that the response time difference is the result of an additional late-occurring mental process, unique to dishonest decisions, interrupting the antecedent mental processing. We suggest that this process inhibits the activation of the truth, thus permitting the execution of the lie. These results advance our understanding of dishonesty and clarify existing theories about the role of increased cognitive load. More broadly, we demonstrate the vast potential of our approach to illuminate the temporal organization of mental processes involved in decision-making.

Keywords: ERP; dishonesty; electrical neuroimaging; microstates; response times.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Deception*
  • Humans
  • Mental Processes*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Reaction Time