Monday, 30 April 2012

Guest Post - How to Tell if Someone is Lying

Both Teresa and I are a little bit fascinated by psychology (especially criminal psychology, but I'll leave that for another time, lest I make us sound like total and utter psychopaths).

Anyway, when I was younger, I used to read book after book after book on body language. How do you know if someone is lying to you? How do you know if someone is flirting with you? How do you know if someone even likes you?!

These were the questions my geeky, teenage self always wanted answered. But, of course, I never really figured it out. I've always been a little bit naive, always a little too trusting.

Anyway, that's why I was thrilled to have a body language expert, Craig Baxter, agree to guest post for us. I think everyone could do with some tips in spotting liars and learning how to tell if someone is lying (I know that I've met my fair share of liars lately), so this post was a fascinating read for me.

I hope you enjoy!

Sam x

Detecting deception is a truly difficult task, and I do hope the following will help you become more adept in spotting dishonesty. Did you know that research has indicated that truth tellers often appear more nervous than liars? The fear of the truth teller’s story not being believed will arouse fear, which in turn will manifest into nervous energy (known as the Othello Error). 

On the other hand, liars often successfully control their behaviour and speech, which removes the chance to observe such cues. Liars want to make an honest impression on you, and so will attempt to control their deceptive behaviour accordingly. Truth tellers are not as weary of their behaviour, and can look more uncomfortable when challenged. 

So, how do liars get away with deceit? Well, here are two thoughts. If the lie is relatively small for the liar, there is often little chance given to the receiver to notice deceptive cues - I like to call these ‘everyday lies’. 

Another reason why liars get away with deceit is that the receiver concentrates on the wrong area when lie spotting. Many deception beliefs are that "liars don’t give you eye contact," or "liars look up and to the right." Even that "liars appear nervous and fidget more". However, solid research has shown that these are myths, and massively weaken any chance of detecting deception.

Another problem is where the liar embeds a lie into an otherwise truthful statement. These are called ‘embedded lies’ and are difficult to spot. An example of this would be an adulterous husband who wants to cover up his whereabouts on Friday at 8pm (he was with his wife’s best friend) but when asked, he subsequently describes how he went to the gym that night. His answers are rich in detail due to the fact that he went to the gym on Thursday at 8pm, so the recalled information IS truthful, just not the day. This type of behaviour is preferred for liars, as only small parts need to be fabricated, thus leaving no visual detectable signs of deceit.

But with so many pitfalls, how do you detect deceit? Research has indicated that a higher pitch of voice, a slower speech rate, fake smiles (microexpressions), persuasive head movements, immediacy (none immediate answers) and a lack of plausibility are reliable signs of deceit, so long as they appear in a cluster, not singularly. But beware, there is no cue akin to Pinocchio’s nose in detecting it. Instead, you should focus your attention on the words of the liars, since these are the carriers of deceit. In my opinion, analysing the statements of the liar is far more effective than looking for non-verbal signs of deceit.

The global view about liars is that they look away from you when they are lying. This is a false belief, which can be backed up with 40 years of research. What you will often find is that liars will often consciously engage in greater eye contact, because it is commonly (but erroneously) believed that direct eye contact is a sign of truthfulness. 

In fact, eye gaze is related to many factors that have nothing to do with deception. For example, people make less eye contact when they are embarrassed, make more eye contact when dealing with people of high status, and people avoid eye contact with others who sit too close to us. Of course, women also use eye gaze to emotionally manipulate. For these reasons, no relationship exists between eye gaze and deception.

One issue arises when you think about the physiological aspect of telling a high stakes lie. One in which the punishment for deceit is severe to the individual. Studies have shown that heavy cognitive load (deep thinking) lowers behavioural animation.  So for example, someone’s blinking rate might decrease when they are trying to think of a convincing (yet deceptive) answer to your question. However their blinking rate might dramatically increase straight after their answer because:

A. The liar doesn’t know what the target knows, and they might have solid evidence that contradicts their story.

B. The liar becomes increasingly anxious that the target is actually adept in lie catching.

The fear of getting caught out will increased autonomic stress in the body (increases in breathing rate, blood pressure, heart rate) which will manifest themselves into an increase of movements. So, you have a problem - while cognitive load decreases movements, one of the emotional responses to fear is to increase in movement.

Anyway, with that in mind, here is a technique you can use if you suspect someone is not being honest with you:

he objective is to ask a question that does not accuse the person of anything, but alludes to that person’s possible behaviour. The key is to phrase a question that sounds perfectly innocent to an innocent person, but like an accusation to the guilty.

Here is an example:

Suspicion: Amanda (CafĂ© Owner) suspects that a member of her staff has stolen £150 from the cafe safe.

Question: “Rick, I’d like to get your advice on something. A colleague of mine at another cafe has a problem with one of her staff. She feels a member of her staff may be stealing from the cafe safe during their shift. Do you have any suggestions on how she can approach him about this problem?”

Now if Rick’s innocent of the charges, he’s likely to offer his advice and be pleased that you sought his opinion. The innocent want the truth revealed. If he’s guilty, he’ll seem uncomfortable and will assure you that he never does anything like that. The guilty want the truth hidden.

Just replace a theft with the problem you have, and you can begin your investigation based on your suspect's verbal and non-verbal reaction.

I hope the following sheds some light on the difficult, yet fascinating world of detecting dishonesty and evaluating creditability.