Subconscious Lie Detector

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A new study reported on by LiveScience suggests an alternative interpretation to the well-established fact that humans are terrible at correctly determining when they are being deceived.

Previous studies have shown that humans are no better than chance at detecting deception; however, this study suggests that the subconscious mind may be better at detecting deceit than previously thought.

The study, co-authored by social psychologist Leanne ten Brinke at UC Berkeley and published in the journal of Psychological Science, posits that the signals being received by the part of our brain that isn’t actively engaged in analyzing a potential liar’s movements and speech patterns are perhaps the crucial pieces of the puzzle and can help a person decipher the liars from the truth tellers.

If I give you ten videos where five people are lying and five people are telling the truth, I can predict that you and everybody else is going to perform at 50 percent, said study co-author Leanne ten Brinke, a social psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley. It’s just as accurate as flipping a coin. However, ten Brinke and her colleagues sought out to answer the question of whether the human subconscious is a more accurate lie detector. From an evolutionary standpoint, this made sense.

A group of 72 students was asked to determine whether their peers were lying to them about knowledge of $100 worth of money left in books. These amateur detectives did no better than chance, as has been proven in previous studies where people were asked to distinguish between liars and truth tellers. However, when asked what words they associated with each of the people they interacted with, the students had an implicit association of negative words (“deceitful,” “untruthful”) with the liars and positive words (“honest,” “valid”) with the truth-tellers.

The results of the research suggest that our subconscious minds are better at sensing differences in people’s behavior than we might think, though the cause for those differences may be unknown. A vague sense of unease is all it takes for our instincts to kick in and cause us to avoid an untruthful person.

Our unconscious might be picking up on the right things that really are there, ten Brinke said.

The next step for the researchers is to determine something in the viewer’s response that could help scientists to easily and cheaply identify liars. Scientists are hopeful that they would be able to channel the aforementioned subconscious lie detection to find liars without the use of expensive lie detectors.

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