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The Cognitive Neuroscience of Deception

Final Report Summary - COND (The Cognitive Neuroscience of Deception)

The research objectives of this project were: i) To identify neural processes underlying
deception by using cognitive and neuroscience methods. ii) To determine the extent to which deception processes are affected by key variables such as the motivation to lie and how they may relate to other cognitive processes. iii) To quantify the accuracy of neuroimaging techniques to discriminate between deceptive and honest responses; iv) To measure the effect of deception detection countermeasures on classification accuracy, and v) to disseminate the results of the research to key audiences.

A series of neurocognitive studies of deception were conducted to reach these objectives. The main results of this research are: i) Lies about different types of concealed information (episodic vs. semantic) are associated with different event-related potential (ERP) signatures; this indicates not only that deception processes need to be subdivided into different types to be studied, but that one could maximize the accuracy of methods for deception detection in real situations by taking into account such differences. ii) Methods to detect deception about concealed information need to carefully examine the stimuli employed to avoid artifactual results; specifically, it is critical to counterbalance the stimuli across participants and to employ suitable control conditions. iii) Memory- and attention-based countermeasures can drastically reduce the accuracy of methods to detect deception about concealed information both with ERPs and with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The efficacy of these countermeasures in concealed information paradigms was demonstrated here for the first time. However, at least with ERPs, the impact of such countermeasures can be reduced by using a fast paradigm that makes it difficult to implement them. iv) With fMRI, the most accurate concealed information paradigms are those in which participants are highly motivated to lie and responses have to made quickly, providing further clues for devising paradigms that maximize deception detection accuracy. v) Numerous cognitive factors were found to be associated with one’s ability to produce lies, including the ability to imagine alternatives to reality, creative ability, and some aspects of moral cognition. These factors can be taken into account to better understand deceptive behavior and incorporated into better methods to detect deception.

These results provide key information not only to understand deceptive behavior, but also for further development of neurocognitive methods to detect deception about concealed information. These methods are likely to become more and more important as societies incorporate neuroscientific information into their legal systems. In addition, these results provide critical information about the potential limitations of these methods. This work is relevant to several target groups: i) to cognitive and social neuroscience researchers around the world, as their focus is a better understanding of human cognition; ii) to forensic scientists and legal experts who have been interested in incorporating neuroscience-based methods to detect deception in their work; iii) to EU and world organizations with an interest in novel veracity assessment methods; iv) to the general public, as topics such as lie detection are routinely distorted in media reports.

The research findings were disseminated through a combination of i) publications in international journals and book chapters to reach cognitive neuroscientists, specialists and nonspecialists in the forensic psychology field, as well as legal experts; ii) invited talks, seminars, and workshops to academic and practitioners; ii) talks to the general public; iv) teaching and supervision of undergraduate, Master, and PhD students, as well as postdoctoral fellows at the Host Institution. Furthermore, knowledge transfer to the Host Institution was achieved by means of collaborations and informal seminars and meetings with colleagues and students.

The professional integration of the fellow has been successful as he currently holds a permanent academic position as Associate Professor, and he directs the Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Hosting Institution.