How to Keep People from Lying

Keeping people from lying is quite simple reports the Business Insider .

I’m sure many of you know the process of filling out an auto loan or tax document and at the end there’s always a statement that you have to sign affirming that ‘the facts you presented are true and correct to the best of your knowledge’, right?

Well, recent experiments have shown that people who sign after they fill out their information are more likely to lie about the information requested than people who sign that statement of honesty before they fill out their information.

The Universities of Harvard, Duke and Toronto researchers wrote:

…simply moving the signature line from the end to the beginning of a form will bring one’s moral standards into focus, right before it is most needed…by the time individuals have filled out the form, they have already engaged in various mental tricks and justifications that allow them to maintain a positive self-image.

Does promising something before you do it actually promote honesty and truthfulness?

5 responses to “How to Keep People from Lying”

  1. Mike says:

    Seems like an application of Cialdini’s “commitment and consistency”.

    When you get someone to make a commitment (promising to be honest) they are more likely to behave in a manner consistent with that commitment (being honest when filling out the form). Cialdini identified several factors that enhance the strength of the commitment (e.g. making the commitment written, public, effortful, etc.)

    Making a promise first is making a commitment, making a promise last is answering a question. 🙂

  2. Russ Conte says:

    I interview and hire people for a living, and that involves a lot of deception detection. One way I get people to be honest with me is to thank them very early in the interview when they are honest with me. Even if it’s something extremely minor (which is always is – such as a missing phone number on an application). I’ll then say something like, “I really appreciate honest people, it’s good to know you are one, too!”. I’m setting up the expectation that the applicant is going to be honest because that’s who they are – that’s their character. If they decide to lie later on in the interview, that can create tension – and I believe it has. More often than not, though, people find it refreshing that they can be totally honest with an interviewer and it’s not a bad thing. That – as much as anything else – is what makes for an open and revealing interview. The goal is to find the best candidate for the job, and this is a tiny part of how I do it.

    As far as the blog post, I don’t see the effect of someone signing their name at the start or end of an application having much impact, I’d need to see a lot more evidence before I’d be persuaded. I remember in 3rd grade we always had to sign our names in the upper right hand corner. But there were a lot of deceptive kids in that class 🙂

    Russ Conte

  3. Stu Dunn says:

    Be interesting to read the actual results section of the study, just how significant a difference the location of the signiture is. Very interesting – thanks for sharing.

  4. Mike – I think your last comment is very pertinent and objective.

    Russ – Positive reinforcement is always a good Idea and like you mention it is not just for kids it works well on adults too.

    I think this study focuses on the average person who has not decided to lie or be
    entirely honest beforehand.

    Another question to ask ourselves is: If a person already has an intent to lie then would singing a document promising to be honest beforehand effect their preconceived decision to lie?

    Its always good to hear from our readers. Thank you

  5. Thanks to everyone for their great comments!

    If any of you are interested in reading more about these experiments, here is the original paper from the Harvard Business School:

    http://www.hbs.edu/research/pdf/11-117.pdf

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