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An update on liars, lies and lying: Most of us lie routinely 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
posted by Rita Handrich

Time for an update on who lies, why they lie, and how you can spot them. We’ve written a lot about deception in the past but there’s always more to say (believe it or not). We’re going to cover several articles in this post and discuss each of them briefly so you can explore the items in greater depth if they strike a chord of interest.

60% of us lie in everyday conversation 

When we think of liars, we often think of “them”. But new research out of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst says it is more common than not to lie routinely and often. The study used 121 pairs of undergraduates who were told the purpose of the study was to examine how people interact when they meet someone new. They all had ten minutes to converse but some were told to make themselves seem likable, some were told to make themselves appear competent, and others (the control group) were not told to present themselves in any specific way. After the interaction, the research participants were shown videotapes of the interaction and asked to point out any lies they had told.

The researchers found that, in their research sample, “60% lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation and told an average of two or three lies”.

It’s hard to say if this rate of lying would occur in interactions where no one is told to behave or present themselves in a certain way. But it makes it clear that if you are trying to make a good impression, you may lie more often than not. And if you are talking with someone who is likely attempting to impress you, take their claims with a grain of salt.

Spotting a liar

We routinely see how-to articles on spotting a liar but it is easier said than done. Here’s one from NBC News that tries to summarize the research on deception but ends up sensationalizing the results a bit (aka perhaps lying). They say that if you say you never lie, you are a liar and they comment on how poorly people fare when they attempt to detect deception. And then they give you “five steps to becoming a human lie detector” and give glossy explanations of how to understand the research. We think this one is worth your time if you want a quick overview of the research and want to see how people learn their information and misinformation on spotting deception.

Are scheming and dishonesty just part of being human?

Finally here’s an article from National Geographic on “why” we lie. This is a really wide-ranging article that shares a lot of information on various types of lies and liars as well as the motivations for lying by various people. It will teach you a lot about hoaxers, con artists, and visual artists that try to fool you, and enlighten you on things that are, in fact, lies—but also very cool and funny. It’s a weirdly wonderful journey through the neuroscience of lying and all the motivations behind various kinds of lies. They even get to fake news and its proliferation as well as the advantages to us of all the technology available to us—and the reality that technology has opened up “a new frontier for deceit”.  And if you want even more, there is a good writeup in The Guardian of a pathological liar who was also very bright and a medical researcher. Despite his accomplishments, he just couldn’t stop lying.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, these are important areas on which to keep informed. It is important to maintain an awareness of what jurors see as “indicators” of deception—whether those indicators are truly indicative of deception or not. The more you know about what people assume, the better you can prepare witnesses and the better you can monitor your own distracting non-verbal behaviors that might just make some juror solemnly declare to others in the deliberation room that you were obviously lying in your closing statement.

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