How Can You Tell if Someone Is Lying?
How can you tell if someone is telling a lie? You can't determine
if someone is lying, say some scientists - at least not with
any consistency. That is what their research shows anyhow. But
the research done in this area is often flawed in several important
ways. Here are a couple of these flaws.
Lying in a Lab Is not the Same
"People are very good liars when nothing is at stake,"
says Aldert Vrij of the University of Portsmouth in England.
"But a lab setting is not real life." He is referring
to the fact that most experiments on lie-detection have researchers
telling subjects when to lie. The lies told have no real effect
on subject's lives - there are no meaningful rewards or punishments
Vrij sought to correct this deficiency in the research by
looking at real-life police interrogation videos. This made for
more relevant research, he figured. After all, we don't really
care if we can or can't detect "pretend lies" in a
laboratory. What we want is the ability to detect lies in real
Vrij concentrated on cases where the true facts were later
determined. This way, he knew when the subjects were lying or
telling the truth. What did he find? He found that there were
fairly reliable clues to whether a person is lying, but that
these are not universal. They are individual indicators.
One person might, for example, consistently avert his gaze
when lying, while another might have greater eye-contact when
lying. Since most research doesn't test for these individual
factors, the results seem to indicate that lie-detecting isn't
viable. In reality, a person who takes into account the individuals
habits and patterns of behavior can detect lies better.
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to tell if someone is lying.
Researchers Ignore Lie Detection Examples
Often researchers ignore real-life examples of lie detection
skills. Some people do have the ability to detect lies
Maureen O'Sullivan of the University of San Francisco, in
many studies of federal agents, forensic psychologists, and other
groups of professionals, has found that a small percentage can
consistently detect lying with 80% accuracy or higher. Out of
13,000 people she tested, only 15 consistently performed at this
level, but the very fact that some can do this well suggests
that there are things we can learn to improve our own lie-detecting
Keep in mind that although this is a small number of people
who detect lies, they do it consistently. That means that
they aren't just getting lucky. Also, they were able to do this
with strangers who they knew nothing about. How many more people
would be able to detect lies if they could first observe the
liars and learn a little about them?
Can you really tell if someone is lying? Why not ignore the
flawed research of overly-skeptical scientists, and find out