Richard comes
home from a night of heavy drinking with his friends. He falls asleep and wakes
up the next morning not remembering what he did last night. Richard’s partner
would like to know where he was and what he was doing. Richard failing to
remember anything from last night, makes up a plausible sounding story and hopes
his partner does not notice he is lying. He thinks he got away with it but
suddenly his partner wants him to retell his story but now backwards. Richard
tries it but soon his story starts to sound very different and his partner figures
out he is lying. Vrij and colleagues (2008) converted this story into an experiment and found
that by making participants tell their lie in reverse order, more cues to
deceit emerged and observers could more easily distinguish between liars and
truth tellers. Their findings support the claim that lying is more cognitively
demanding than telling the truth. Further evidence supporting this claim shows
that lying is accompanied with longer response latencies and a higher number of
errors (see Verschuere
& De Houwer, 2011, for a review). Brain imaging studies have also
indicated that lying is associated with higher activation in the prefrontal
cortex, a brain area linked to cognitive control and executive functioning (Abe, 2011; Christ, Van Essen,
Watson, Brubaker, & McDermott, 2009; Farah, Hutchinson, Phelps, &
Wagner, 2014). Therefore, choosing to lie is often choosing to perform a
cognitively demanding task.

When it
comes to executive functions, Miyake and colleagues (2000) distinguished three main components:
shifting of mental sets, inhibition of prepotent responses and updating working
memory. All three functions have been postulated to be involved in formulating
a deceptive response. Shifting might allow flexible switching between mental
sets associated with a truthful response and sets associated with a deceptive
response (Visu-Petra,
Miclea, & Visu-Petra 2012; Visu-Petra, Varga, Miclea, & Visu-Petra, 2013). Lying involves withholding the truth and various lines of research have
found that the truth response is often the dominant response that is activated
first when lying. This then leads to a conflict between the truth response and
the deceptive response. Furthermore, evidence in line with this idea suggests
that response inhibition is often needed in order to formulate a lie (Debey, Ridderinkhof, De Houwer, De
Schryver, & Verschuere, 2015; Duran, Dale, & McNamara, 2010; Hadar, Makris,
& Yarrow, 2012, Vartanian et al., 2013). However, the truth can also
play a helpful role when lying. This rather counterintuitive hypothesis has
found support in recent studies indicating that the truth does not always need
to be inhibited and can remain active in working memory to help the formulation
of a deceptive response (Ambach,
Stark, & Vaitl, 2011; Debey, De Houwer, & Verschuere, 2014; Visu-Petra
et al., 2012). In sum, the idea that lying is more cognitively demanding
than telling the truth has gained more interest over the last few years but many
questions still remain. The dominant idea assumes that cognitive control plays a
crucial role in resolving the response conflict elicited by the automatic activation
of the truth response.

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