Truth Detectors: Can You Spot the Truth?

Do you trust that most people are honest?  A new study suggests that trusting people often make better lie detectors than cynical people.   The study, published by SAGE and posted on the Science Daily website, insists that trusting people are not gullible but in fact very smart.

Researchers asked 20 participants to watch taped job interviews where half of the interviewees told the truth and half told at least three substantial lies.  Days before the participants were to “judge” the recorded interviews for truthfulness, they were given a questionnaire that measured their trust in other people.  Some sample questions were:  “Most people are basically honest,” and “Most people are basically good natured and kind.”  They then watched the videos.

Researchers found that people who were more trusting of others scored higher than those who were not very trusting.  Contrary to what you might think, people who were untrusting were more likely to hire liars and less likely to recognize they were liars.  Many people believe that untrusting people are better lie detectors and less gullible than trusting individuals, but this study has shown that this is not the case.

In a related article, “The Wizards Project”, a study was conducted by the late Maureen O’Sullivan, which also examined the extraordinary ability of people to detect lies.  In this study, 20,000 individuals including law enforcement, attorneys, arbitrators and psychologists were tested to see if they had a true ability to detect deception.  Of the 20,000 tested only fifty individuals were found to be natural lie spotters.

Being able to spot a lie and in turn a liar is a great feat considering that the average person’s percentage rate in detecting deception is only 50, which is why the great few who obtained near perfect scores are labeled “Truth Wizards”.  A couple of Wizards worth mentioning are JJ Newberry who was one of the most accurate scorers on O’Sullivan’s tests as well as the famous Eyes for Lies blogger who has a 96.9% accuracy rate, according to her website.

According to the study, successful lie detectors are attuned to detecting elusive changes in facial expressions (dubbed micro-expressions), body language and patterns of voice.  They look for behavioral and emotional inconsistencies.  Microexpressions are flicker-like emotional clues that occur when someone is trying to hide their true feelings.  Some people can suppress emotion, but it is almost impossible to eliminate the expression of emotion all together, which is why people emit micro-expressions.

Do you think you are better than the average human at detecting lies?  Well, practice might not make perfect in this field of study, but it will definitely improve your accuracy rate.

5 Responses to “Truth Detectors: Can You Spot the Truth?”

  1. Russ Conte says:

    I figure I’m no better than average at spotting lies, and probably quite a bit below average. My job involves interviewing and hiring people on daily basis. It’s extremely rare that I catch a person in a lie, so I don’t think I’m that good. But where I am much better than average (IMHO) is getting people to admit to stuff. Just today an applicant checked on her application that she had no felonies or misdemeanors. And then I asked her and she said she had no felonies or misdemeanors. And then I probed a bit, and she admitted to assaulting her baby’s father. And that the charges were dropped, but they showed up in an application for an apartment. I don’t know what’s true in her situation, so I sent her to the county courthouse to get a copy of her record and bring it back. I’m good (maybe I can even say very good) at that kind of thing – building a relationship where people feel free to open up. I am an incredibly trusting individual, so I do have that going for me :)

    I am VERY interested in Dr. O’Sullivan’s research, and would love to see some of it somewhere. All I can find are tiny snippets here or there, and a few articles she co-authored. My hope is that she left a manuscript somewhere that summarizes her findings, and that someone will publish that manuscript. I would love to read that manuscript, if it exists.

    Russ Conte

  2. Very interesting. I do believe most people are good, and have good intentions. Absolutely true! What causes most people to lie is not maliciousness, it is the inability to cope with their painful reality and the lack of ability/motivation/inspiration to change our situations. So we deny and lie thinking it will make us feel better, though it rarely does.

  3. Nork779 says:

    What people are way more likely to emit rather than micro-expressions are macro-expressions really. And prolongued over multiple seconds time span… But there is really no such thing as learning this from books. You just have to care a lot about people you are standing next to. Cause it matters how they tilt their upper body, how they keep their hands in their pockets, where in the neck they tilt their heads from… It’s really so complicated to ever map in a book. The real thing anyway. Where billion neurons with million years of experience make the thinking for you… You are just the user-friendly interface to all that. You can be more aware than others, maybe of multiple elements in comparison to other observers, but you can just never be aware of the full thing. My guess is that people can be aware of more only because they have more processing power. And that’s why they are better lie-detectors. Not because they are more aware in the first place… I guess psychopaths are good at reading people also. Maybe fear also pushes you to be aware of this… Not just love. Which would explain why psychopaths go at so many insane things.

  4. Nork779 says:

    I guess you also have to have an inquisitive mind that with some training would allow you to process the reason of why individuals would lie to you (or maybe not have any real reason at all to do this) on the spot which would make it a lot more easier/accurate than just going with the gut feeling….

  5. heather rae says:

    I known people who are trusting that get hurt by other peoples deception, on the other hand I’m generally distrustful of others but on average, generally pretty good at spotting liars but because I have been lied to many times in my life which has lead to distrust of others. I have only learned to pick up on deception from others as a result. So this article is not going to be true for everybody because, everybody is different.

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