Nov 24, 2006

Human Lie Detectors

As I've mentioned in previous posts, it's extremely difficult to tell when someone is lying. On the other hand, almost everyone likes to think that they can detect deception.

So, if you're like most people, you probably don't realize how often people lie to you and get away with it.

In fact, in some of the most interesting research on the topic, Maureen O'Sullivan, a professor at the University of San Francisco, shows that fewer than 1 in 500 people can detect deception with any degree of accuracy. To date, only a handful of people, out of thousands tested, can tell when someone is lying by watching their body language or their nonverbal behavior (MSNBC and BBC reports).

According to the reports of this research, these "wizards," as they are called, do not focus on any single nonverbal cue (probably because there isn't a consistent set of clues), but rather these wizards are highly motivated to figure out what's going on in social situations and they also happen to be really good at reading people. For the most part, these wizards rely on their intuition and feelings when trying to detect deception (MSNBC and BBC reports).

One of the "truth wizards" identify by Professor O'Sullivan has started her own blog where she comments on events and news stories of the day. It's definitely a cool site and something to check out if you have any interest in understanding lying and deception.

But for me, the most puzzling aspect of this story is not that only a few people can really detect deception, but how little coverage this issue gets in the popular press. Almost weekly I discover a new article describing how to catch a liar. Without fail, the advice given contradicts what the literature shows.

I guess most people would rather be given bad advice on how to improve skills they do not possess, rather than acknowledge the truth: Few people have "the gift" when it comes to detecting deception.

1 comment:

Eyes said...

Most people don't like to look truth in the face when the answer is outside of their comfort zone.