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Captive to stereotypes: why it has become more difficult to recognize lies

25.09.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin
how to recognize a lie

A psychological experiment has shown that the known signs of lies do not work out.

Do you think that you are great at psychology and can easily figure out when you are being lied to? You may be wrong! Famous stereotypical signs of lying such as averting the stare, shifty eyes, covering the mouth with the hand, rubbing the nose and pauses in speech, do not necessarily indicate that your interlocutor is lying. A study by psychologists at the University of Edinburgh has shown that experienced liars take advantage of common delusion and skillfully suppress involuntary gestures and facial expressions that accompany a lie. Moreover, people who tell the truth can show signs of lying.

An interactive computer game “Treasure hunt” was created for the experiment and 24 pairs of players participated in it. One player from the pair had to talk, and the other, to listen. The speaker had to mislead the hearer and prevent the treasure from being found. The hearer had to recognize when the opponent was lying, and when he/she was telling the truth and consequently find the treasure.

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Analysis of more than a thousand messages from players, their facial expressions and gestures when voicing false and correct information, showed that they successfully used stereotypical ideas about lies to mislead others. For example, players deliberately rubbed their noses and averted their stare when telling the truth, and the truth was perceived by the opponent as a lie.

What conclusion can be drawn? If a person wants to hide some information, especially if lying is part of his/her profession (politicians, actors, etc.), that person can easily deceive anyone. However, a sincere individual who truthfully answers uncomfortable questions can show the whole spectrum of signs of lies simply because he/she is in a stressful situation and is experiencing strong emotions.