We Are All Liars
Lying is a part of our everyday lives, according toBella DePaulo, a researcher at the University of California – Santa Barbara. Her work shows that we are likely to lie several times a day, or in one out of every four conversations that lasts more than 10 minutes.
Most of our lies are the little white lies we tell others, to make ourselves look better, or to spare others’ feelings.
DePaulo says serious lies are far less frequent. The most common are about affairs and money. “The most serious lies we tell are more likely to be told to the people we care about the most. Because the serious lies are told to cover up something we’re ashamed of, often. When we didn’t meet our own standards, our own expectations. And importantly, we didn’t live up to the image that these people have of us.”
What Makes A Good Liar?
Successful liars fib with conviction and confidence, and they’re skilled at gaining our trust. “The best liars are the people who really do not feel badly about what they’re doing,” says Bella DePaulo. “They feel justified. They feel confident. Maybe they’ve even persuaded themselves that there isn’t anything wrong with what they did, or they were entitled to do it.”
We Can Blame Our Ancestors
David Livingstone Smith, at the New England Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Biology, says we evolved to lie simply because it works. Lying helps us get food and sex and the other things we need and want. There are many examples in nature of animals that practise deception, but only human beings have big brains and language skills as lying tools. He says we are also skilled at lying to ourselves. “Think of it. If you can bury the truth from yourself, how much more thoroughly you bury it from others. So we are…especially placed as natural born liars.”
We Are Lousy Lie Detectors
When it comes to detecting liars, most people score about 50 per cent, or slightly better and that includes many police officers. In other words, we might as well be guessing.
A Good Lie Detector is Hard to Find
According to San Francisco scientist Maureen O’Sullivan, only about one in a thousand people is an excellent lie detector (I SWEAR I AM ONE OF A MILLION). She says these experts have highly-developed powers of observation, and a relentless motivation and commitment to uncovering the truth. She calls members of this exclusive club: ‘Deception Wizards.’ Not surprisingly, many find their calling in the highest levels of security and police work. But she has discovered one interesting wrinkle about them. “One of the things that is curious to me about the expert lie detectors is that their expertise pertains in their professional life, but many of them have long histories of romantic failures, you know, and reports of difficulties in their romantic life because in those settings, they put this ability to the side.”
Folklore and Failure Go Together
Many common beliefs like: ‘liars never look you in the eye’ simply aren’t true. Stephen Porter, a forensic psychologist at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, says relying on folklore or a single clue to detect lies is a mistake “because the liars know this folklore and know that when you’re telling the truth, you’re supposed to look somebody in the eye and if you don’t do that you’re going to be seen as being deceptive.”
The Truth is Hidden In the Tale
Stephen Porter says there are some clues to look for. Liars stories tend to be chronological, shorter and short on detail. And they can sound ‘scripted’. In other words, liars have to work hard to keep their stories straight and true sounding. And they’re unlikely to stumble, correct or contradict themselves, as most of us do in everyday conversations. “You’re less likely to admit such things because you think the recipient of your message is going to see that as a deception, or you’re not credible.”
The Thrill of the Cheat
Some people get a thrill from lying to others and getting away with it – a phenomenon called ‘Duping Delight.’ According to Paul Ekman, an eminent researcher on deception, duping delight “is the pleasure we get over having someone else in our control and being able to manipulate them.”
When it Comes to Lying it takes Two to Tango
The experts say most of us collude with those who lie to us. We have what’s called a ‘Truth Bias.’ In other words, we give the benefit of the doubt to others, because we want to believe what they’re telling us. According to Cornell University researcher, Jeff Hancock, our collusion with liars goes even further than that. In conversations with liars, our language changes to match the liar’s words, even when we’re not aware we’re being lied to. “A really important thing coming out of this is that lying takes place as a collaboration and that when I’m lying to you, we’re jointly engaged in that action.”
Psychopaths and the Get Out of Jail Free Card
Psychopaths are two and a half more times likely to be granted parole, then others who applied, despite a high incidence of re-offending, according to research conducted by Stephen Porter, a forensic psychiatrist at Dalhouse University. Why? “We think it’s because they are able to put on a good show. They’re able to mimic emotions a lot better than most people, they’re able to persuade the parole board they’re remorseful and so on,” says Porter. “And they get released and this is kind of scary. You’ve got the most dangerous offenders getting released proportionately more often than their less dangerous counterparts.”
Most of us lie to cover up a sin, or to take advantage, or to make ourselves look better, or to spare others the hurt of knowing the truth. According to Bella DePaulo, pathological liars lie even when telling the truth would be better. Pathological liars “go to the lie first. It’s like lying has become so habitual to them that they lie even when the truth would have been a more persuasive answer.”
There Is No Pinocchio’s Nose
Despite our wishes and best efforts, and advances in science, there is no single, sure way to detect a lie. “There’s nothing like that in human nature and I doubt there ever will be,” says Paul Ekman. “I’d wager a lot of money, and I’m not a betting man, that nothing will ever be found that is always present when someone lies.”