(W)e seem to be on an endless quest to unmask the deceiver. This is easier said than done. The research is surprising.
- Even the professionals aren’t very good at catching people in a lie.
- When we do catch a lie, it’s often not for the reasons you may expect.
- There is no “Pinocchio’s nose”. That is, there is no single verbal, nonverbal or physiological cue uniquely related to deception.
See, Grimes, infra.
Some may be familiar with how military law enforcement tells commanders and other how they can spot a liar. There has always been a healthy suspicion about this so-called ability. Here is some current reportage that is a useful reminder to challenge their assumptions.
David Robson, The best (and worst) ways to spot a liar, BBC, 7 September 2015.
Thomas Ormerod’s team of security officers faced a seemingly impossible task. At airports across Europe, they were asked to interview passengers on their history and travel plans. Ormerod had planted a handful of people arriving at security with a false history, and a made-up future – and his team had to guess who they were. In fact, just one in 1000 of the people they interviewed would be deceiving them. Identifying the liar should have been about as easy as finding a needle in a haystack.
Using previous methods of lie detection, you might as well just flip a coin
So, what did they do? One option would be to focus on body language or eye movements, right? It would have been a bad idea. Study after study has found that attempts – even by trained police officers – to read lies from body language and facial expressions are more often little better than chance. According to one study, just 50 out of 20,000 people managed to make a correct judgement with more than 80% accuracy. Most people might as well just flip a coin.
Ormerod’s team tried something different – and managed to identify the fake passengers in the vast majority of cases. Their secret? To throw away many of the accepted cues to deception and start anew with some startlingly straightforward techniques.
Bill Grimes, Looking for Lying in All the Wrong Places, The Jury Expert, 28 Aug. 2015.
In 2006, two of the premier researchers in the field of deception detection, Charles Bond and Bella DePaulo, re-examined the results of over two hundred studies on how well people detect lying. They found that people were able to detect lies 54% of the time. You’d get 50% right by pure chance, so that’s not very impressive (Bond & DePaulo, 2006). Another study tested 13,000 people to see how many of them were good at spotting lies (O’Sullivan, 2008). Thirty-one were good at it. That is 2-tenths of one-percent (.02%), again, not very impressive.
Research also shows that lie experts – police interrogators, customs agents, even lawyers – aren’t any better at detecting lying than anyone else (Bond & DePaulo, 2006). Decades of research show that lie detection is a near-chance game (emphasis added).
You should be aware that there is a dispute about these issues, some of which is reflected in Michael G. Aamodt Ph.D.; Heather Custer M.S., Who Can Best Catch a Liar?: A Meta-Analysis of Individual Differences in Detecting Deception. 15 (Spring) FOR. EXAMINER, at 6 (2006).