Confessing embarrassing information is often better than withholding it. Research finds that people distrust withholders of details more than they dislike revealers of unsavory information.
While interviewing the suspect who claims ignorance about an incident, the witness who saw it happen, or the informant who identified the perpetrator, the detective asks a question that will eviscerate the perpetrator’s story. As the suspect prepares to answer, he looks up and to the left, purses his lips, tenses his eyelids, and brings his eyebrows down.
The investigator knows that a suspect displaying shifty eyes and gaze aversion and looking up and to the left when answering uncomfortable questions is exhibiting signs of lying. The suspect is not totally disinterested, but he is reluctant to participate in the interview. Because the suspect’s behavior suggests dishonesty, the detective prepares to drill still deeper in the questioning.
Unfortunately, this investigator likely would be wrong. Twenty-three out of 24 peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals reporting experiments on eye behavior as an indicator of lying have rejected this hypothesis. No scientific evidence exists to suggest that eye behavior or gaze aversion can gauge truthfulness reliably.
Some people say that gaze aversion is the sure sign of lying, others that fidgety feet or hands are the key indicators. Still others believe that analysis of voice stress or body posture provides benchmarks. Research has tested all of these indicators and found them only weakly associated with deception.
Relying on false clues, or signs, about lying can have dire consequences. It can lead to inaccurate reads that witnesses, suspects, or informants are lying when they are not or that they are telling the truth when there is more to the story. Reliance on false clues leads to misplaced confidence about the strengths and weaknesses of cases and can lead an investigator down dead-end paths. Moreover, a false read can have deadly consequences.
By Sarah D. Young for Consumer Affairs
Humans may not be the only ones who consider eyes to be the window to the soul. A new study out of the University of Helsinki found that dogs, just like humans, focus most closely on the eyes when deciphering facial expressions.
The study, published recently in the science journal PLOS ONE, determined that dogs look first to the eyes and examine them much longer than nose or mouth areas. Ultimately, the dogs appeared to base their perception of the facial expression on the face as a whole.
This social gazing pattern mirrors that of humans and is being called the first evidence of emotion-related gaze patterns in non-primates. The study’s findings provide modern day support of Charles Darwin’s 150-year old argument that human and non-human animal emotional expressions share evolutionary roots.
Different reactions to threatening faces
Using eye-gaze tracking, researchers noted that images of certain expressions — the mouths of threatening dogs, for example — piqued their attention more than others. In addition to being more attentive to threatening faces, dogs’ viewing behavior was altered upon seeing them; they looked much longer at the faces of threatening dogs.
This attentional bias to threatening faces may be based on an evolutionary adaptive mechanism, researchers say. The ability to detect and avoid threats represents a survival advantage.
But it appeared this reaction to threatening faces was species-specific, as dogs had a much different reaction to threatening human faces.
You sound great on the phone, by e-mail and in social media. Don’t blow it in person. Christine Jahnke, author of The Well-Spoken Woman, speaks to Forbes to give a everyone a few pointers so you can leave a lasting impression.
Child-rearing trends might seem to blow with the wind, but most adults would agree that preschool children who have learned to talk shouldn’t lie. But learning to lie, it turns out, is an important part of learning in general—and something to consider apart from fibbing’s ethical implications.
The ability to bend the truth is a developmental milestone, much like walking and talking. Research led by Kang Lee, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, shows that lying begins early in precocious children. Among verbal 2-year-olds, 30% try to pull the wool over their parents’ eyes at some point. At age 3, 50% regularly try it. Fibbing is common among 80% of 4-year-olds and is seen in nearly all healthy 5- to 7-year-olds.
In other words, lying is nothing unusual in small children. What’s more, younger children who tell tales have a cognitive advantage over the truth-tellers, Dr. Lee said. “Lying requires two ingredients. Children need to understand what’s in someone else’s mind—to know what they know and what they don’t know. We call this ability theory of mind. The children who are better at theory of mind are also better at lying.”
The second requirement, according to Dr. Lee, is executive function—the power to plan ahead and curb unwanted actions. “The 30% of the under-3s who can lie have higher executive function abilities,” he said, “specifically the ability to inhibit the urge to tell the truth and to switch to lying.”
Such cognitive sophistication means that these early liars will be more successful in school and in their dealings with other kids on the playground, he added.
Though Dr. Lee had known for decades that children who excel at theory-of-mind tasks are better liars, he didn’t know which came first. Does lying make children better at guessing what other people are thinking? After all, trying half-truths on for size would elicit feedback from adults that would reveal something about their mental states. Or is it that if you teach people to imagine what’s going on in others’ minds, they then become better fabricators? He tested that notion in an experiment that he published in the journal Psychological Science last November.
Theory-of-mind training has become a popular tool for helping children on the autistic spectrum as well as those with behavioral problems. The training walks children through situations that help them to discover that other people could have knowledge or beliefs different from their own. In Dr. Lee’s lab the children are also read stories rich in information about people’s mental states. “So we asked, what are the side effects? Can we induce lying by training theory of mind?” Dr. Lee said.
He and a team of researchers from Canada, the U.S. and China divided a group of 58 preschoolers from a city in mainland China into two groups after testing them for such things as intelligence, lying ability and executive function. Half of the children received six sessions of theory-of-mind training and the other half received an equal number of sessions devoted to teaching number and spatial problem-solving skills.
After six sessions over eight weeks, the researchers found that the children in the theory-of-mind group had not only become better liars but also were significantly better at lies than the control-group children were. The effects lasted a month. Dr. Lee intends to follow up to see if these results persist.
“The first occasion of your child telling a lie is not an occasion to be alarmed but an occasion for celebration. It’s a teachable moment,” he told me, “a time to discuss what is a lie, what is the truth and what are the implications for other people.”