digital age, it’s become much easier and commonplace for people to lie. Anonymity on the internet allows us to
say whatever we’d like, true or false, kind or cruel, with no consequences. And while film and television have created interesting theories about
how to detect a liar, the reality is that it's hard to detect a lie, and we don’t know all that much about the
phenomenon of making statements that are simply not true.
Hancock of Cornell University is an expert in the field of lying and
deception. I had the opportunity
to hear him speak, and he presented some fascinating facts in a talk called “The
Brave New World of Lying and Deception.”
Here are five noteworthy findings:
We Do It Every Day
lie, on average, about one time per day, whether that be in person, on the
phone, or digitally. I was shocked
to hear such a low rate, given the staggering amount of scandals and deceit we
read about every day.
believe that studying a person’s eye movements and/or change in voice will help
us detect their lies. Both of these assertions are essentially false, with
voice pitch being minimally useful.
We Lie to Get a Date
Around 80% of
Match.com profiles have at least one lie in one of three major categories:
height, weight, and age. What do women most often lie about? Weight. How about men? Height. No surprises there. These two variables are more
likely suspects because they are more easily changeable (e.g., dieting, high
heels, shoe lifts, etc.), whereas age, unless you’re using photo editing software or copious
make-up, is more fixed.
can detect lying only 54% of the time or only slightly above chance. What is
noteworthy here is that we probably aren’t really better than a coin toss at all. The reason the number is pushed upward to 54%
is likely because of the small group of people who are just horrible liars that
we can all detect, as well as what researchers call “wizards,” those who are successful at detecting
lies more than 90% of the time. One study found only 18 wizards in 20,000 people who participated, and it’s unclear why they are able to pick out lies as well as they
Lies Tend to Follow a Trend
As “lying profiles” are being developed, three
trends are emerging. Narratives that contain lies tend to have:
statements (which allows for a psychological distancing from the lie)
“exception” words such as “but,” “except,” “aside from,” etc. (to decrease the
complexity of the lie)
more negative emotion
Dr. Hancock noted
this last factor is due to what he called “guilt from the leakage.” I have to
wonder if the negative emotion (“Oh, the accident that caused me to be late to
this job interview was just horrible”)
is also a subconscious method of inducing pity or sympathy from the listener,
who is then less focused on how truthful you are.
So the next time you’re watching reruns of Lie to Me keep in mind what we really
know about deception and what is fictional. It might be a little less entertaining, but you’ll at least
have more knowledge about the entire process.