Lying Upside-Down: Alibis Reverse Cognitive Burdens of Dishonesty

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Abstract

The cognitive processes underlying dishonesty, especially the inhibition of automatic honest response tendencies, are reflected in response times and other behavioral measures. Here we suggest that explicit false alibis might have a considerable impact on these cognitive operations. We tested this hypothesis in a controlled experimental setup. Participants first performed several tasks in a preexperimental mission (akin to common mock crime procedures) and received a false alibi afterward. The false alibi stated alternative actions that the participants had to pretend to have performed instead of the actually performed actions. In a computer-based inquiry, the false alibi did not only reduce, but it even reversed the typical behavioral effects of dishonesty on response initiation (Experiment1) and response execution (Experiment 2). Follow-up investigations of response activation via distractor stimuli suggest that false alibis automatize either dishonest response retrieval, the inhibition of the honest response, or both (Experiments 3 and 4). This profound impact suggests that false alibis can override actually performed activities entirely and, thus, documents a severe limitation for cognitive approaches to lie detection.

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