Memory-Based Deception Detection: Extending the Cognitive Signature of Lying From Instructed to Self-Initiated Cheating

Linda M. Geven, Gershon Ben-Shakhar, Merel Kindt, Bruno Verschuere

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


From a cognitive perspective, lying can be regarded as a complex cognitive process requiring the interplay of several executive functions. Meta-analytic research on 114 studies encompassing 3,307 participants (Suchotzki, Verschuere, Van Bockstaele, Ben-Shakhar, & Crombez, 2017) suggests that computerized paradigms can reliably assess the cognitive burden of lying, with large reaction time differences between lying and truth telling. These studies, however, lack a key ingredient of real-life deception, namely self-initiated behavior. Research participants have typically been instructed to commit a mock crime and conceal critical information, whereas in real life, people freely choose whether or not to engage in antisocial behavior. In this study, participants (n = 433) engaged in a trivia quiz and were provided with a monetary incentive for high accuracy performance. Participants were randomly allocated to either a condition where they were instructed to cheat on the quiz (mimicking the typical laboratory set-up) or to a condition in which they were provided with the opportunity to cheat, yet without explicit instructions to do so. Assessments of their response times in a subsequent Concealed Information Test (CIT) revealed that both instructed cheaters (n = 107) and self-initiated cheaters (n = 142) showed the expected RT-slowing for concealed information. The data indicate that the cognitive signature of lying is not restricted to explicitly instructed cheating, but it can also be observed for self-initiated cheating. These findings are highly encouraging from an ecological validity perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)608-631
Number of pages24
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2018 The Authors. Topics in Cognitive Science published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of Cognitive Science Society. Inc


  • Cheating
  • Concealed Information Test (CIT)
  • Deception
  • External validity
  • Honesty
  • Memory detection


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