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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2004 Nov 29;359(1451):1755-62.

A cognitive neurobiological account of deception: evidence from functional neuroimaging.

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  • 1Department of Academic Clinical Psychiatry, Division of Genomic Medicine, University of Sheffield, The Longley Centre, Norwood Grange Drive, Sheffield S5 7JT, UK.


An organism may use misinformation, knowingly (through deception) or unknowingly (as in the case of camouflage), to gain advantage in a competitive environment. From an evolutionary perspective, greater tactical deception occurs among primates closer to humans, with larger neocortices. In humans, the onset of deceptive behaviours in childhood exhibits a developmental trajectory, which may be regarded as 'normal' in the majority and deficient among a minority with certain neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. autism). In the human adult, deception and lying exhibit features consistent with their use of 'higher' or 'executive' brain systems. Accurate detection of deception in humans may be of particular importance in forensic practice, while an understanding of its cognitive neurobiology may have implications for models of 'theory of mind' and social cognition, and societal notions of responsibility, guilt and mitigation. In recent years, functional neuroimaging techniques (especially functional magnetic resonance imaging) have been used to study deception. Though few in number, and using very different experimental protocols, studies published in the peer-reviewed literature exhibit certain consistencies. Attempted deception is associated with activation of executive brain regions (particularly prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices), while truthful responding has not been shown to be associated with any areas of increased activation (relative to deception). Hence, truthful responding may comprise a relative 'baseline' in human cognition and communication. The subject who lies may necessarily engage 'higher' brain centres, consistent with a purpose or intention (to deceive). While the principle of executive control during deception remains plausible, its precise anatomy awaits elucidation.

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