An ERP is an electrical brain response, as measured at the scalp with electrodes, that is directly related to something that is seen or heard. ERP studies have been used to provide us with information about how language is initially processed in the brain before any noticeable behavior occurs.
In this study, participants read statements that were either pragmatically licensed or pragmatically unlicensed. Pragmatically licensed statements are informative and sound natural. For example, “In moderation, drinking red wine isn’t bad for your health” is a pragmatically licensed statement. Pragmatically unlicensed statements, on the other hand, are unnatural and not helpful. An example of this type of statement would be, “Vitamins and proteins aren’t very bad for your health.” This statement is unlicensed because including the negative word “aren’t” implies that vitamins and proteins may be bad for your health, which we know is not true. In this case, the negative word makes the statement trivial and not very useful.
Just as in true statements, false words elicited larger ERPs than true words in pragmatically-licensed, negative sentences. That is, there was greater brain activity when the participants came across a word which rendered the statement false. However, in the pragmatically unlicensed sentences, true and false words elicited similar ERPs.
In other words, our brains assess the truth of each part of a sentence until they come to a stop point, then a flurry of activity occurs, followed by rejection of the sentence determined false.
This is why you never manipulate people by lying to them. You tell them true statements that don’t tell the whole truth, and string them along with multiple ones, so their brain never hits a stop point and they’re inclined to say “yes, that’s true,” at the end.
For example, you know that government looks out for criminals. And that not all people convicted of crimes are guilty. You also know that some people are convicted because they pissed off a judge or had the wrong political beliefs. So you know that government is looking out for those of us who have the wrong political beliefs.