The brain has an error detection mechanism that registers when something appears wrong. This innate capacity detects what neuroscientists call “errors”: the differences between expectation and perceived actuality. This portion of the brain plays a central role in detecting mistakes as well as responding to them.
We see what we expect to see—what our radar has been coded for. In fact, when we don’t see what we expect to see, the brain’s error detection mechanism reads as if something is wrong. It’s located in the medial frontal cortex, next to the emotional center of the brain—and you can never totally ignore your next-door neighbor. At times it can be abrupt and explicit: remember the experience of absently-mindedly going to the refrigerator and getting a drink of milk—to abruptly discover when you took a sip that it was orange juice? When this happens, neural firings disrupt expected flow and use brain energy.
Consider the emotional expense of two things.
A Lie. The surface story is the constructed lie. The subliminal story is the recognition of the lie by the error detection mechanism. Then you have to deal with the dissonance. Triple work.
A Debt. The real expense of buying something you can’t afford is that you have to pay more for it. Then the emotional expense of your mind and dissonance in your brain recognize that spending is different from affording. Then you have to pay the interest on both. Triple work.
You can deceive others – even your own mind.
But your brain always knows.
The good news: This neural machinery can both recognize and correct errors—to optimize behavior. So we also respond to mistakes. This is great, if we remember to discern whether it’s a mistake or a neural response and printout to change itself.