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When the truth is not enough. Socially acceptable lying.

Sometimes it's ok to lie... It oils the wheels of societal interaction and eases emotional pain.

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Research Paper

Tell me sweet little lies: An event-related potentials study on the processing of social lies.

Abstract: In reading tasks, words that convey a false statement elicit an enhanced N400 brainwave response, relative to words that convey a true statement. N400 amplitude reductions are generally linked to the online expectancy of upcoming words in discourse. White lies, contrary to false statements, may not be unexpected in social scenarios. We used the event-related potential (ERP) technique to determine whether there is an impact of social context on sentence processing. We measured ERP responses to target words that either conveyed a social "white" lie or a socially impolite blunt truth, relative to semantic violations. Word expectancy was controlled for by equating the cloze probabilities of white lying and blunt true targets, as measured in previous paper-and-pencil tests. We obtained a classic semantic violation effect (a larger N400 for semantic incongruities relative to sense making statements). White lies, in contrast to false statements, did not enhance the amplitude of the N400 component. Interestingly, blunt true statements yielded both a late frontal positivity and an N400 response in those scenarios particularly biased to white lying. Thus, white lies do not interfere with online semantic processing, and they do not engage further reanalysis processes, which are typically indexed by subsequent late positivity ERP effects. Instead, an N400 and a late frontal positivity obtained in response to blunt true statements indicate that they were treated as unexpected events. In conclusion, unwritten rules of social communicative behavior influence the electrical brain response to locally coherent but socially inappropriate statements.

Pub.: 24 Mar '16, Pinned: 07 Mar '17