Lying relies on the truth

E. Debey*, J. De Houwer, B. Verschuere

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Cognitive models of deception focus on the conflict-inducing nature of the truth activation during lying. Here we tested the counterintuitive hypothesis that the truth can also serve a functional role in the act of lying. More specifically, we examined whether the construction of a lie can involve a two-step process, where the first step entails activating the truth, based upon which a lie response can be formulated in a second step. To investigate this hypothesis, we tried to capture the covert truth activation in a reaction-time based deception paradigm. Together with each question, we presented either the truth or lie response as distractors. If lying depends on the covert activation of the truth, deceptive responses would thus be facilitated by truth distractors relative to lie distractors. Our results indeed revealed such a "covert congruency" effect, both in errors and reaction times (Experiment 1). Moreover, stimulating participants to use the distractor information by increasing the proportion of truth distractor trials enlarged the "covert congruency" effects, and as such confirmed that the effects operate at a covert response level (Experiment 2). Our findings lend support to the idea that lying relies on a first step of truth telling, and call for a shift in theoretical thinking that highlights both the functional and interfering properties of the truth activation in the lying process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-334
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


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