Do great liars know how to tell if you’re lying to them? (Yes, they do!)
“Don’t kid a kidder.” It’s a nice way of saying, “don’t lie to a liar”. We all think we are better than most others at identifying deception and generally–we’re only deceiving ourselves in this belief. But here’s a terrific way to become a terrific deception detector: polish up your skills as a liar!
Researchers invited participants to a “competitive game” where they were asked their true opinions privately and shared those with the researchers by filling out a questionnaire. After that, they were told they would:
“take part in a competitive game designed to test their communication skills and that two cash prizes would be awarded; one to the participant who was rated as most credible across all trials and the other to the participant who was most accurate in their judgments across all trials.”
They were then given the same topics written on a card and told to express their opinions to a small group (with the instruction on the card to either lie or tell the truth). They were allowed to speak for about 20 seconds–presenting either their true or false opinion with some reasons they held this particular opinion.
Ultimately, what the researchers found is that the better you were at lying to others and being seen as truth-telling–the better you were at detecting deception in those same others. The people who were good at convincing people they believed things they didn’t truly believe, were better at detecting who else was pitching falsehoods. In other words–liars know liars–it’s scientific proof that “you can’t kid a kidder”.
It poses a dilemma for those wishing to assess the credibility of a witness. You can ask the best liar you know–but you can’t really trust what they have to say! Perhaps it’s a way to soothe ourselves–”I’m not good at identifying liars because I’m a pretty honest person”. When faced with this dilemma, we prefer to see what a group of people think. We’ve written about research on this topic a lot and shared some of our actual mock juror comments when they think they see liars. They don’t generally mince words.
In the research study we are sharing with you today, the lying participants were given about 20 seconds to either lie or tell the truth. We give our mock jurors a bit longer than that–usually about 6 minutes of listening to excerpts from witness depositions. They assess quickly. You can watch their non-verbal behavior as they listen to the video excerpts–some nod knowingly, some shake their heads, others cross their arms and lean back, still others laugh quietly (and sometimes not so quietly)–it’s rare for there not to be any reaction.
We use those mock juror reactions to help with witness preparation efforts. The group response is much better than our own responses and reactions alone. There are times when a witness seems to do quite well and jurors react poorly or when a witness is really not credible and the jurors have a collective reaction as to the reasons for that witness presentation. It’s an intriguing thing. We ask them detailed questions about why the witness seemed reliable or not, and we get useful answers for trial preparation.
When we are emotionally involved, it’s often very hard to see lies as they unfold in front of us. When mock jurors watch, they are often very intuitive and accurate. They are also often very candid (and sometimes scathing) in their comments. Mock jurors take their tasks as seriously as do real jurors. And they don’t like feeling that they’ve been lied to during the process of that serious work.
The important thing is this: what behaviors cue jurors to “see” a liar? Are there behaviors your truth-telling witness is showing that need to be cleaned up so jurors will see them as credible? Is your witness evasive, non-responsive, in need of personal hygiene tips or sniffling a little too much? We don’t know any better way to identify witness preparation needs than an objective (and often a bit skeptical) group of twelve.
Wright GR, Berry CJ, & Bird G (2012). “You can’t kid a kidder”: association between production and detection of deception in an interactive deception task. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6 PMID: 22529790