Research, Lies and More Research: The Myth of the Dead Giveaway

Photo courtesy of CHAD ZUBER/SHUTTERSTOCK via Pacific Standard Magazine

By now, many of us have realized that the average person, yes that’s you and me, is not very good at detecting deception BUT very proficient at implementing it.

This fact has been proven time and time again by research that purports we are only as accurate as chance (50%) when it comes to correctly catching lies.

Pacific Standard Magazine has reported on the deception myths that some law enforcement officers fall prey to such as, if a suspect is fidgeting, touching their nose, stroking their head etc.

Much research finds this mindset is counter productive and notes that it even lowers the accuracy of judgments.  Why are the above concepts inaccurate?

Simply because people react differently under stressful situations.

What juries, law enforcement, and media need to understand is that accusing someone of a wrong doing is Very stressful and even frightening (for the innocent as well as the guilty) and convicting them because they don’t react to tragedy or the loss of a loved one as others want them to or expect, affects not only them but their families and the effects are irreversible (even if they are later found innocent and released).

Overestimating one’s ability to recognize when someone is not being truthful might not make much of a difference for us on a daily basis.  However, when criminal investigators do it, it can have dire consequences.

David Taylor, a homicide detective and veteran law enforcement trainer points out some important facts,  “Everyone responds to traumatic situations completely differently.  Given death notifications, some people will ball up in a corner and cry their guts out. Some will sit there in complete disbelief, or become argumentative. How would you be, accused of a crime? And how the person accuses you is going to impact your reaction.”

In a related article also by Pacific Standard mag the lie myths from above, which were popularized by the T.V.  show Lie To Me (cancelled) are put under scrutiny.  Timothy Levine, a professor of communication at Michigan State University reported that  “Lie to Me appears to increase skepticism at the cost of accuracy.” 

In past post, Humintell reports, “While the TV show is loosely based on Dr. Paul Ekman’s work in the field of microexpressions, it must be remembered that Lie to Me is a television drama series where plot lines are fabricated, characters are fictional and the truth is often exaggerated.”

Levine’s study, published in the journal Communication Research, finds watching the drama increases suspicion of others even as it reduces one’s ability to detect deception.  Levine and his colleagues experiment involved 108 undergraduates at the university.  To find out more about Levine and his study read Humitnell’s past blog,  Lie to Me: Viewers Impact.

 How do you weigh in on this information ?  

Do you think you are better than average at Detecting Deception?

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