Taxing the Brain to Uncover Lying? Meta-analyzing the Effect of Imposing Cognitive Load on the Reaction-Time Costs of Lying


Lying typically requires greater mental effort than telling the truth. Imposing cognitive load may improve lie detection by limiting the cognitive resources needed to lie effectively, thereby increasing the difference in speed between truths and lies. We test this hypothesis meta-analytically. Across 21 studies using response-time (RT) paradigms (11 unpublished; total N = 792), we consistently found that truth-telling was faster than lying, but found no evidence that imposing cognitive load increased that difference (Control, d = 1.45; Load, d = 1.28). Instead, load significantly decreased the lie–truth RT difference by increasing the RT of truths, g = −.18, p =.027. Our findings therefore suggest that imposing cognitive load does not necessarily improve RT-based lie detection, and may actually worsen it by taxing the mental system and thus impeding people’s ability to easily—and thus quickly—tell the truth.

Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition