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We know liars when we see ‘em

Friday, July 30, 2010
posted by Douglas Keene

Or so we believe. We’ve written about beliefs in our individual ability to detect deception a number of times. The truth is, our ability to detect deception is often less than that of chance alone. But that doesn’t inhibit our wish to imagine great skill in detection.  Even when we experience lies big and small—right to our faces—on a regular basis, we still want to believe we have nearly magical ability to spot it.  If this delusion wasn’t so dangerous it would be somehow funny or sad.  But in fact it is hazardous to justice.

We want to believe we can spot liars on sight. Some would say that intensive ‘scientific’ research has brought us closer and closer to ‘scientific’ means of assessing deception. In fact, recently an eye-tracking lie detection method has been licensed to a Utah based company.  Principals in the company say that this product was developed based on intensive research and that it will enable better “national security” among other things.

While most jurors can’t use advanced equipment to identify liars, many of them are attempting to enhance their skills in deception detection by watching TV. The Fox Network show “Lie to Me”  has become a popular television show which many tune in to faithfully.  In fact, many trial attorneys routinely ask jurors what television shows they watch on TV to get a sense of who may have beliefs about the work of the police, investigators and attorneys.

So here’s an interesting finding. A recent study on viewers of Lie to Me found that all watching this TV show did was make viewers more suspicious of others—but it did nothing to improve their detection of deception. Which leads us to a new reason to ask about television shows jurors watch:

  • If you want jurors who are suspicious and prone to see conspiracy about them, you likely want viewers of this TV show on your panel
  • If you want jurors who are not suspicious and prone to see conspiracy about them, you don’t want viewers of this TV show on your panel

We love research. It’s always good for something!

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