Is it a lie? New scientific method to detect the truth

UN Security Council faces new draconian demands for reform after failing to prevent Russian invasion of Ukraine; seen here in a September 2017 photo of the Council Chamber in New York – Copyright AFP JANEK SKARZYNSKI

How do you know if someone is lying? Often there are telltale mannerisms or blushing, constant eye contact, etc. However, there are many who are adept at hiding their ability to spout lies. This becomes more problematic in life or death cases.

Unmasking liars by distraction is the basis of a new method of lie detection. The method shows that lie tellers who are asked to perform several tasks during an interview are easier to spot.

Research from the University of Portsmouth relies more on the psychological than the physical, in order to weed out serial liars. At the heart of this is the fact that lying during interviews consumes more cognitive energy than telling the truth.

The new research builds on this and establishes that investigators who have used this finding to their advantage by asking a suspect to perform an additional, secondary task while being questioned are more likely to expose the lietellers.

Indeed, the extra brain power needed to focus on a secondary task (other than lying) becomes much more difficult for lietellers.

This has been proven by a study. For the experiment, a secondary task was selected. The secondary task used in this experiment was to recall a seven-digit car registration number. However, the reaction to this secondary task was only effective if the lietellers were informed of its importance. Then, the process of dividing attention between making a statement and a secondary task provided sufficient behavioral differences for the researchers to successfully select liars and non-liars in a test group.

To show this, a study was conducted with 164 participants. The subjects were first asked to give their level of support or opposition on various social issues that were in the news. They were then randomly assigned to a truth or lie condition and asked about the three topics that mattered most to them. Truth tellers were instructed to report their true opinions while lie tellers were instructed to lie about their opinions during interviews.

Those who performed the secondary task were given a seven-digit registration number and had to remind the interviewer. Half of them received additional instructions that if they could not remember the car’s registration number during the interview, they could be asked to write down their opinions after the interview.

Participants were given the opportunity to prepare for the interview and were told that it was important to be as persuasive as possible during interviews (this was prompted by participants to believe they were entered into a draw by lot).

Detection was successful because the process also reduces the ability of liars to think what to say, and therefore engage in behaviors to avoid detection. From there, in situations, the possibility of thinking becomes less, truths often seem more plausible than lies.

The results revealed that the lietellers’ stories seemed less plausible and less clear than the truthtellers’ stories, especially when the lietellers were given the secondary task and told it was important.

The search appears in International Journal of Psychology and Behavior Analysistitled “The Effects of a Secondary Task on True and False Opinion Statement”.

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