The Complex Art of Deception: Understanding Lies and Liars

Professor Geoff Beattie reveals intriguing insights into the psychology of lying, explaining how people lie once a day on average. He explores the subtle indicators of deception, the difficulties in detecting lies, and how expert liars exploit biases and human intuition to deceive effectively.

PTI | Sanfrancisco | Updated: 14-06-2024 09:21 IST | Created: 14-06-2024 09:21 IST
The Complex Art of Deception: Understanding Lies and Liars

By Geoff Beattie, Professor of Psychology, Edge Hill University

San Francisco, Jun 14 (The Conversation) - People don't need to be in an election campaign to worry about spotting lies. According to psychology research, individuals lie at least once a day.

A 2006 review of 206 papers discovered that humans are only slightly better than chance, at 54%, in guessing whether something is a lie or not.

While some lies aim to spare others' feelings, most are self-serving. Children learn to lie young, generally between two and three years old, with successful lying requiring a well-developed understanding of others' mental states and good working memory.

By adulthood, lying becomes a well-practiced act. Although no distinct tell-tale signs of lying exist, indicators of negative emotions associated with lying, such as anxiety, guilt, and shame, may leak out in micro-expressions. These fleeting facial expressions, often masked by fake smiles, help liars conceal their emotions.

However, identifying such lies often requires replaying behavior in slow motion. Avoiding eye contact, often believed to be a deception cue, is not reliable. Eye contact changes with cognitive activity and interpersonal distance, rendering it an ineffective lie-detection tool.

Psychological models like the intimacy equilibrium model explain how varying interpersonal distances during interactions affect eye contact and perceived intimacy. For instance, when my mother interrogated me up close, I looked away, which she interpreted as me lying.

This reveals a type of confirmation bias, where individuals look for evidence to confirm their suspicions, even influencing behavior to support these suspicions. This bias extends beyond personal experiences. A 1978 study showed police officers in interrogations moving closer to suspects they deemed guilty, causing suspects to look away and confirming guilt in the eyes of observers.

Trustworthiness judgments in everyday life happen almost instantly. Once a person seems trustworthy, we might unconsciously stop searching for deceit cues. Expert liars exploit such biases, using good eye contact, masking smiles, and well-rehearsed truthful-seeming speech to deceive effectively. They might even convince themselves of their lies, minimizing emotional responses and increasing their believability.

For my new book, Lies, Lying, and Liars: A Psychological Analysis, I studied expert liars and their tactics. One informant shared how acting unusually angry and unstable during a police stop threw off officers, disrupting their behavioral baseline checks.

Personality also plays a crucial role. Searching for micro-expressions of guilt, shame, or fear is futile if the person enjoys lying. For them, lying is an exhilarating act without concern for consequences, leading to positive micro-expressions that embolden them.

In conclusion, lie detection is fraught with biases, and skilled liars leverage these biases and natural human intuition to their advantage. (The Conversation) RUP

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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