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You think you can recognize a liar? You probably cannot

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Posted October 20, 2018

Can you tell when someone is lying to you? Many people think that they can detect the most basic signs someone is not telling the truth, but are those signs really accurate? Scientists from the University of Edinburgh say that clues that suggest someone is lying may be deceptive. In fact, lying is much harder to detect than people believe.

Are you looking at someone’s eyes trying to decide if they are lying? A skilled liar can hide these signs. Image credit: Adina Voicu via Wikimedia

You know how a lying person looks like. He is hesitating, because he is still creating the story in his head. Lies have to be created, they require effort and some thinking, which can be visible in prolonged pauses and some hand gestures. Many people think that they are good at detecting these basic cues, but scientists say that these signs are produced more often when someone is telling the truth. Furthermore, a skilled liar knows these signs too and is able to avoid them. Scientists used an interactive game to assess the types of speech and gestures speakers produce when lying. They also looked into signs that people interpret as clues that can out the liar. Interestingly, a video game was useful in this research.

Scientists used an interesting computer game, where 2 players were looking for a treasure. Players were free to lie, but they knew that other participants might be lying as well. Scientists recorded potential signs of lying, such as pauses in speech, changes in speech rate, shifts in eye gaze and eyebrow movements – in total, more than 1100 such cues were identified. Then scientists looked into what signs listeners were actually looking into when trying to recognize a lie and compared them to the ones actually exhibited when lying. Interestingly, it looks like people don’t waste any time when looking for a liar – it only takes a few hundred milliseconds of encountering a cue to recognize a lie.

However, scientists found that most of these cues interpreted as signs of lying actually occur more frequently when someone is telling the truth. Martin Corley, one of the authors of the study, said: “The findings suggests that we have strong preconceptions about the behaviour associated with lying, which we act on almost instinctively when listening to others. However, we don’t necessarily produce these cues when we’re lying, perhaps because we try to suppress them”. That is what you should take from this – if you know these signs of lying, a liar knows them too.

A good liar is smart and has very good social skills. He can read the situation and mask his potential nervousness. Even hesitation can be mask skilfully to give liar some time to think.

 

Source: University of Edinburgh

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