Police Lie Detection Accuracy: The Effect of Lie Scenario

This study, conducted by the late Dr. Maureen O’Sullivan of the University of San Francisco and Dr. Mark Frank of the University of Buffalo, et. al. focused on the ability of police officers to detect lies. In particular, these researchers focused on the effect of the lie scenario- whether officers were more accurate when detecting lies in high stakes or low stakes situations.

The average accuracy rate for an individual to detect truths from lies is around 53%, which is essentially is no better than chance. However, there are some individuals that demonstrate the ability to detect lies at a much higher accuracy rate than others.

In the Wizards Project conducted by Dr. Maureen O’Sullivan and Dr. Paul Ekman, the researchers tested over 20,000 individuals in their ability to detect lies. Of these, only around 50 individuals had an accuracy rate of 80% or higher. These individuals were subsequently dubbed “truth wizards”. Surprisingly in the study, truth wizards came from all walks of life and did not necessarily from a law enforcement background. Eyes for Lies, one of the truth wizards discovered through the wizards project, writes a popular blog which attracts hundreds of followers from around the world.

In the Police Lie Detection Accuracy study published in the Journal of Law and Human Behavior, Dr. O’Sullivan and Dr. Frank investigated across 23 studies involving 31 different police groups in eight countries. Officers who were tested with lie detection scenarios using high stakes lies were “significantly more accurate than law enforcement officials tested with low stakes lies”.

The study differentiates high stakes lies from low stakes lies in the following way: “In high stakes lies, the liars are lying about something important to them such as a strongly held opinion, a personally highly stressful event, whether they committed a serious crime, or whether they are actually emotionally aroused at the present moment (as opposed to recalling an emotional event)”.

The abstract and preview of the article can be found here

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