The honest truth about deception: Demographic, cognitive, and neural correlates of child repeated deceptive behavior

Sandra Thijssen, Andrea Wildeboer, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Ryan L. Muetzel, Sandra J.E. Langeslag, Vincent W.V. Jaddoe, Frank C. Verhulst, Henning Tiemeier, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, Tonya White*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This study examined situational, psychological, and neurobiological factors associated with deceptive behavior in 8-year-old children. By assessing deception in low- and high-risk conditions, we differentiated between children displaying some dishonesty and children who deceived repeatedly, and we assessed the correlates of deception in 163 children. A large majority of the children were deceptive in the low-risk condition (n = 121, 74.2%), but most children refrained from deception when at risk for getting caught (69 of 121). Using an aggregate score, children who continued deceiving could be discriminated from other children based on gender, lower age, lower IQ, less effortful control, and lower educated mothers. Compared with honest children and high-risk deceivers, low-risk deceivers differed on an aggregate score, suggesting that they were more likely to be girls and to come from higher income families. Compared with the other children, high-risk deceivers showed decreased activation in the bilateral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and right frontal pole during the low-risk condition, suggesting decreased engagement in conflict monitoring and error detection during opportunities for deception. In high-risk deceivers, high-risk deception was associated with increased bilateral ACC and right paracingulate gyrus activation compared with low-risk deception. High-risk deceivers may require a higher level of risk to engage the ACC to the same degree as low-risk deceivers or honest children. Our results suggest that deceptive behavior in children seems to be largely dependent on the estimated likelihood of getting caught. High-risk deceivers form a distinct group with different cognitive and neurobiological characteristics compared with honest children and low-risk deceivers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-241
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Child behavior
  • Deception
  • Executive functioning
  • Moral behavior


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