Kosslyn on Brain Bases of Deception: Why We Probably Will Never Have a Perfect Lie Detector

Dean Stephen M. Kosslyn of Harvard University, gave a presentation entitled Brain Bases of Deception: Why We Probably Will Never Have a Perfect Lie Detector, on 10 January 2010 at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Here is the abstract:

Different brain systems are used when one produces lies in different ways, such as by fabricating lies spontaneously “on the fly” versus fabricating them on the basis of a previously memorized story. This discovery indicates that there is no single “lie center” in the brain, and makes it unlikely that a single neural pattern of activation can distinguish deception from telling the truth. Stephen M. Kosslyn – Dean of Social Science and John Lindsley Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and Associate Psychologist in the Department of Neurology at the Massachusetts General Hospital – explains and discusses the significance of this discovery.

In the presentation, Dean Kosslyn also presents evidence that different attributes of lies, when combined in a given situation, may interact with each other, so as to activate additional, different systems of the brain; and that individuals appear to differ respecting how the relevant processes are implemented in their brains. Dean Kosslyn argues that all of these findings taken together support the conclusion that lie detection is unlikely to be perfected.

Dean Kosslyn referred in the presentation to three of his papers:

  • Giorgio Ganis, Robert R. Morris, & Stephen M. Kosslyn, Neural Processes Underlying Self- and Other-Related Lies: An Individual Difference Approach Using fMRI, 4 Social Neuroscience 539 (2009).
  • Abstract: Two hypotheses were tested using a novel individual differences approach, which identifies rate-limiting brain regions, that is, brain regions in which variations in neural activity predict variations in behavioral performance. The first hypothesis is that the rate-limiting regions that support the production of lies about oneself (self-related) are partially distinct from those underlying the production of lies about other individuals (other-related). The second hypothesis is that a cingulate-insular-prefrontal network found to be rate-limiting for interference tasks is involved in both types of lies. The results confirmed both hypotheses and supported the utility of this individual differences approach in the study of deception in particular, as well in the study of complex cognitive phenomena more generally.

  • Charity J. Morgan, Julia B. LeSage, & Stephen M. Kosslyn, Types of Deception Revealed by Individual Differences in Cognitive Abilities, 4 Social Neuroscience 554 (2009).
  • Abstract: The two studies reported in this article are an extension of the neuroimaging study by Ganis et al. (2003), which provided evidence that different types of lies arise from different cognitive processes. We examined the initial response times (IRTs) to questions answered both deceptively and truthfully. We considered four types of deceptive responses: a coherent set of rehearsed, memorized lies about a life experience; a coherent set of lies spontaneously created about a life experience; a set of isolated lies involving self-knowledge; and a set of isolated lies involving knowledge of another person. We assessed the difference between truthful and deceptive IRTs. Scores from cognitive tasks included in the MiniCog Rapid Assessment Battery (MRAB) were significant predictors of IRT differences. Each type of lie was predicted by a distinct set of MRAB scores. These results provide further evidence that deception is a multifaceted process and that different kinds of lies arise from the operation of different cognitive processes.

  • G. Ganis, S.M. Kosslyn, et al., Neural Correlates of Different Types of Deception: An fMRI Investigation, 13 Cerebral Cortex 830 (2003).
  • Abstract: Deception is a complex cognitive activity, and different types of lies could arise from different neural systems. We investigated this possibility by first classifying lies according to two dimensions, whether they fit into a coherent story and whether they were previously memorized. fMRI revealed that well-rehearsed lies that fit into a coherent story elicit more activation in right anterior frontal cortices than spontaneous lies that do not fit into a story, whereas the opposite pattern occurs in the anterior cingulate and in posterior visual cortex. Furthermore, both types of lies elicited more activation than telling the truth in anterior prefrontal cortices (bilaterally), the parahippocampal gyrus (bilaterally), the right precuneus, and the left cerebellum. At least in part, distinct neural networks support different types of deception.

    In his presentation, Dean Kosslyn also referred to a recent special issue of the journal Social Neuroscience, in which the first two papers listed above appear: Neural Correlates of Deception, 4 Social Neuroscience no. 6 (p. 465-574) (Dec. 2009).

    [NOTE: The following was added on 13 February 2010:] Click here for Professor Judith Donath’s post about the presentation.

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    One Response to Kosslyn on Brain Bases of Deception: Why We Probably Will Never Have a Perfect Lie Detector

    1. legalinformatics says:

      A New York State trial judge recently granted a motion to exclude fMRI evidence respecting the truthfulness of a testifying witness. Wilson v. Corestaff Services L.P., Index No. 32996/07 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. May 14, 2010), http://j.mp/bWWZvV . The court wrote: “even a cursory review of the scientific literature demonstrates that the plaintiff is unable to establish that the use of the fMRI test to determine truthfulness or deceit is accepted as reliable in the relevant scientific community. The scientific literature raises serious issues about the lack of acceptance of the fMRI test in the scientific community to show a person’s past mental state or to gauge credibility.” Here is a report on the decision by Daniel Wise at New Jersey Law Journal: http://j.mp/crkZ7L .

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