A truth that's told with bad intent: An ERP study of deception

Ricardo E. Carrión, Julian P. Keenan, Natalie Sebanz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Human social cognition critically relies on the ability to deceive others. However, the cognitive and neural underpinnings of deception are still poorly understood. Why does lying place increased demands on cognitive control? The present study investigated whether cognitive control processes during deception are recruited due to the need to inhibit a tendency to state the truth, or reflect deceptive intent more generally. We engaged participants in a face-to-face interaction game and examined event-related brain potentials (ERPs) while participants lied and told the truth with or without deceptive intention. The same medial frontal negative deflection (N450) occurred when participants lied and when they told the truth with deceptive intent. This suggests that the main challenge of lying is not to inhibit a tendency to state the truth. Rather, the challenge is to handle the cognitive conflict resulting from the need to keep others' mental states in mind while deceiving them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-110
Number of pages6
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Cognitive control
  • Deception
  • Event-related potentials
  • Mentalizing
  • Social interaction


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