Have you caught the television show, “Lie to Me”? It is a newer show based on the work of psychologist Paul Ekman who has researched the ways we involuntarily respond (movements, facial expressions, eyes, etc.) when lying. If you are bored, try watching your friends and family as you ask them penetrating questions. Last night I was up watching TV because I couldn’t sleep. A couple of actors were involved in a infomercial about an enhancement product. I couldn’t help but laugh when the host (a woman) kept saying “this is great” and other praiseworthy statements while looking down and away and shaking her head. She looked about as comfortable as someone having to undress in public.
But, can you really tell if someone is lying? Ekman has compiled an interesting history of research but the data suggest to me that we aren’t all that good in detecting lies. In fact, we’re probably no better than chance. I read a Washington Post article that talked about how some people become quite good at detecting deception in particular situations (e.g., police with thieves) but that these same people don’t seem to be as good at doing that in other parts of their lives.
1. We make these decisions based on our gut as well as our observations. And our gut is about as accurate as coin flips. We consider particular data and reject other data, but not in a thoughtful, conscious way.
2. We don’t always want the truth (this has been brought by other reviewers of this show). We can’t handle the whole truth. If we tried, we’d never trust anyone. We would become paranoid.
3. Deception is a practiced activity, and frankly, we’re pretty good at it. Some are better than others. The best get away with it for a long time.
You might wonder if we can spot lying with other technologies and as you know some things can be detected. Lie detectors do detect autonomic responses. Unfortunately, they can’t tell why you had that response. Some computer programs can detect some unique features often found in text written by those lying (has to do with the amount of positive and negatives used).
One more thing about deception. It is my belief that many people want to tell a portion of the truth. And that is what comes out–the portion they want to believe and they want you to believe. They want to confess–just not the truth as it really is. A good interviewer can draw out these “confessions” and then expose the mis-information to reveal the lie.
Be sure your lies will find you out? Well, we know that is true in light of eternity. And maybe we will find us exposed in this life as well.