April Fools' – The Art of Deception

With it being April Fools’ Day tomorrow we asked Clea Wright, one of our Psychology lecturers, to give us some hints and tips on how to spot someone who’s being less than truthful and trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

“Have you told any lies today? Most people don’t like to think of themselves as liars, but actually most of us engage in some kind of deceptive behaviour every day. This type of deception usually involves ‘white lies’, minor lies that are not very important and do not have serious consequences. We most often lie to avoid punishment (“Honestly, I did do my homework, but I left it on the kitchen table”); to maintain social cohesion (“What a lovely gift, I’ve always wanted a set of cooking utensils”); to gain some kind of advantage (“You can serve me a pint, I’m definitely 18”) or to manage the impression that we are making (“I have a pilot’s licence. And a Ferrari”).

“If we are all regularly telling lies, and getting lied to, we should be good at spotting lies – we get enough practice! But how accurate are we? Research consistently tells us that we are not good at detecting ‘white lies’; in fact, our accuracy is barely above what we would expect by chance. There are a couple of explanations for this. First, for us to detect lies, people need to behave differently when they are lying to when they are telling the truth. These differences in behaviour are related to psychological factors that we expect people to experience more often when lying. It may be that telling ‘white lies’ does not have a strong psychological effect on people, and so differences in behaviour are small and difficult to see. Second, it may be that we are looking for the wrong behaviours…

“Do you think that people look away when they are lying? Most people believe that gaze aversion is related to lying, but research tells us that this is true only in some limited circumstances. Do you think that people are more fidgety when that are lying? Actually, people tend to produce fewer hand and arm movements when they are lying. If you want to be alerted to potential deception, it is useful to listen carefully to what people are saying. People who are lying tend to have less fluent speech (for example, unfinished words and sentences), provide fewer details, and use more repetition and pausing, than people who are telling the truth. Liars also tend to use language that is more vague, ambivalent, and equivocal, and sound less certain, direct, and involved. If you want to spot a liar, it can be more useful to rely on your ears, rather than your eyes.”

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