Media Releases

Liars find it more rewarding to tell truth than fib when deceiving others

January 23, 2014

TORONTO, ON – A Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to report based on two neur­al imag­ing stud­ies that mon­i­tored brain activ­i­ty has found indi­vid­u­als are more sat­is­fied to get a reward from telling the truth rather than get­ting the same reward through deceit. These stud­ies were pub­lished recent­ly in the neu­ro­science jour­nals Neu­ropsy­cholo­gia and Neu­roIm­age.

“Our find­ings togeth­er show that peo­ple typ­i­cal­ly find truth-telling to be more reward­ing than lying in dif­fer­ent types of decep­tive sit­u­a­tions,” says Prof. Kang Lee from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, whose research is par­tial­ly fund­ed Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties Research Coun­cil (SSHRC).

The find­ings are based on two stud­ies of Chi­nese par­tic­i­pants using a new neu­roimag­ing method called near-infrared spec­troscopy. The stud­ies are among the first to address the ques­tion of whether lying makes peo­ple feel bet­ter or worse than truth-telling.

The stud­ies explored two dif­fer­ent types of decep­tion. In first order decep­tion, the recip­i­ent does not know the deceiv­er is lying. In sec­ond order decep­tion, the deceivers are ful­ly aware that the recip­i­ent knows their inten­tion, such as bluff­ing in pok­er.

The researchers were sur­prised to find that a liar’s cor­ti­cal reward sys­tem was more active when a reward was gained through truth-telling than lying. This was true in both first and sec­ond order decep­tion.

Researchers also found that in both types of decep­tion, telling a lie pro­duced greater brain acti­va­tions than telling the truth in the frontal lobe, sug­gest­ing lying is cog­ni­tive­ly more tax­ing than truth-telling and uses more neur­al resources.

The researchers hope this study will advance under­stand­ing of the neur­al mech­a­nisms under­ly­ing lying, a ubiq­ui­tous and fre­quent human behav­iour, and help to diag­nose patho­log­i­cal liars who may have dif­fer­ent neur­al respons­es when lying or telling the truth.

The team was com­prised of researchers from Zhe­jiang Nor­mal Uni­ver­si­ty, Chi­na; East Chi­na Nor­mal Uni­ver­si­ty, Chi­na; Bei­jing Jiao­tong Uni­ver­si­ty, Chi­na; and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, Cana­da.


For more infor­ma­tion or pho­tos, con­tact:

Kang Lee
Uni­ver­si­ty Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor
Dr. Eric Jack­man Insti­tute of Child Study, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Cell: 647–606-6849,

Dominic Ali
Media Rela­tions Offi­cer
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–978-6974