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Lie with impunity and without detection

Monday, January 28, 2013
posted by Rita Handrich

liar-liarWe’ve written often here about detecting deception. But how about teaching you how to lie effectively? In almost 600 blog posts, it’s a topic we missed. So it’s time we told you the secret to being a terrific liar.

Many of us know someone who is a really good liar. The lies just roll off their tongues effortlessly. it takes an effort to remember not to believe them. They bring truth to  the old adage: “if their lips are moving, they’re probably lying”. With any luck at all, you don’t know many people like this, and you don’t have to spend much time near them. It is toxic to happiness.

But given exposure, it becomes easier to spot the constant stream of lies. We all hate to be tricked and we are so intent on identifying deception in others that even Forbes.com posts a list of ten ways to spot deception. Most of us are really ineffective liars. But some of us are exceptionally skilled at lying–to everyone.

So how do some people really excel at being a liar? Just remember another old adage: “s/he who hesitates is lost”. Liars really are “fast talkers”. New research shows lying can be a learned skill and we are about to teach you how to lie effectively. We know you will not use this power for evil. We first saw this research over at BPS Research Digest thanks to Christian Jarrett. In his post, he debunks many of the commonly accepted paths to detecting deception (such as shifty eyes, fidgeting, eye movements, et cetera) that we have covered at this blog over the years.

In this study, conducted in China, the participants had been given dates, places and other information and were then asked during the experiment if the places, dates, et cetera were relevant to them. Some were told to lie and some were not. That is, to say ‘yes’, the information was relevant to them so the response time to the spoken lie could be measured. What the researchers found, consistent with past research, is that those participants instructed to lie took longer to respond. The theory is that lying results in greater cognitive demand (you have to compose the lie) and so liars take longer to respond.

Next, the researchers educated 2/3 of the participants about the research on response speed when lying. One group was simply told about the research and told to respond faster and the other group was both told about the response speed research and given 360 opportunities to practice their speed. (That’s a lot of practice!) The control group of participants was given none of this information so researchers could assess the impact of no information versus information only versus information plus training/practice.

This time the researchers found that those who were informed but not given practice improved their reaction time when compared to the control group. But those who practiced (360 times!) improved their reaction time significantly over those who were simply informed about the research literature. Practice in responding quickly when you are about to lie really does make you better at lying! The researchers say that their work suggests “performance associated with deception is malleable and could be voluntarily controlled with intention or training”.

The more you practice lying and lying quickly–the better and more believable you become even to the skilled observer. The litigation advocacy takeaway from this research is to make sure you don’t rely on reaction time to know if someone is telling the truth or lying. Much as we would all like a sure formula for detecting deception–what this research tells us is that everyone can become a better liar. All it takes is lots of practice. That also means that all of us can be fooled.

We live in Austin, Texas, home of Lance Armstrong. Recently, we’ve had to return to yet another old adage that seems all too appropriate here: “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”.

Hu, X., Chen, H., & Fu, G. (2012). A Repeated Lie Becomes a Truth? The Effect of Intentional Control and Training on Deception Frontiers in Psychology, 3 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00488

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5 Responses to “Lie with impunity and without detection”

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