Detecting Lies

One way to avoid bias is to avoid believing lies.  Several blogs specialize in lies, such as Deception Blog and Truth, Lies, and Romance.   Here are ten good ways to detect lies:

  1. Look for inconsistencies
  2. Ask unexpected questions
  3. Compare to when they truth-tell
  4. Watch for fake smiles and emotions
  5. Listen to your gut reaction
  6. Watch for microexpressions
  7. Are words and gestures consistent
  8. Are they unusually uneasy
  9. Watch for too much detail
  10. Focus on the truths you find

I wish we had ways as good to detect self-deception.

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  • billswift

    Many of those “good ways to detect lies” will also trip up any high-functioning autistic you are talking to, especially since most don’t advertise their autism.
    2. Ask unexpected questions
    4. Watch for fake smiles and emotions
    5. Listen to your gut reaction
    8. Are they unusually uneasy?
    9. Watch for too much detail
    All of these are “tests” an autist would “fail”.
    Which is why autism is a disability, not a culture as some “autism advocates” have declared. At least a disability when dealing with neurotypicals.

  • Bill, good point.

  • Robin Hanson meets Quentin Tarantino:

    Sicilians are great liars. The best in the world. I’m Sicilian. My father was the world heavy-weight champion of Sicilian liars. From growing up with him I learned the pantomime. There are seventeen different things a guy can do when he lies to give himself away. A guys got seventeen pantomimes. A woman’s got twenty, but a guy’s got seventeen… but, if you know them, like you know your own face, they beat lie detectors all to hell. Now, what we got here is a little game of show and tell. You don’t wanna show me nothin’, but you’re tellin me everything.

  • honestbutnervous

    Your criteria based on gestures, facial expressions, and similar are more likely to distinguish good actors from Asperger people, people with low self-esteem, and people who are naturally nervous than to distinguish truth from intentional falsehood, much less truth from falsehood generally.

    Furthermore, the vast majority of untruths are not consciously intentional lies, but at least partial instances of self-deception, including method acting. And there are plenty of people telling the truth who doubt themselves and will thus come across as “liars” by these criteria.

    These kinds of methods are popular but overused, and result in massive discrimination against very honest people.

  • Items 4,5,6,8 can be failed by people with Tourette’s syndrome, since an inability to look people in the eye is often taken as a sign of untrustworthiness (hence, flagging items 4 and 5), twitching can be taken as a sign of uneasiness (item 8) as well as allowing the observer to read in all sorts of microexpressions (item 6). After all, “shifty-eyed” people are liars, right?

    More generally, the whole “gut reaction” thing can reinforce prejudice against anyone who behaves differently.

    This is not to say that these lie-detection methods don’t work–I’d be interested in seeing the details of an empirical study–but it’s no fun being on the other end of this sort of appraisal.

  • Clearly, lying is one of those things that many people are not comfortable with the idea of having weak clues about. In the absense of strong clues, surely people will make use of whatever weak clues they can find. But surely their judgements will often be in error. What is the common element of topics where people are uncomfortable with weak clues?

  • Doug S.

    I’ve got the perfect way to beat any lie-detector test: believe what I’m saying when I say it. I never “lie.” I’ll give partial truths, answers that are technically true but have misleading implications, or answers that are true under a particular warped interpretation of events (much as Obi-Wan Kenobi justified his statement that Darth Vader killed Luke Skywalker’s father). But actually tell a lie? Never!

    In other words, I never tell a lie I don’t believe. 😉

  • One way to avoid bias is to avoid telling lies. The brain circuitry that you use to lie to others has significant overlap with the brain circuitry that tweaks your own thoughts. What you cannot bear to admit or to say, you will sooner or later stop thinking.

  • Paul Gowder

    The trivial answer to the nervous people, etc. objection is: “watch for these cues with reference to that person’s ordinary baseline.” I believe that’s how actual polygraph exams work: they first get the baseline response to banal questions before making determinations about abberant responses.

  • Eliezer, great point – yes, let’s try not to tell lies.

  • Some years ago I decided to cut down on lying, and it was very liberating. It does indeed free up a lot of resources, although you better train on being diplomatic.

    As for detecting lies, it is better to combine cues than look for individual cues. Aldert Vrij & Samantha Mann, Detecting Deception: The Benefit of Looking at a Combination of Behavioral, Auditory and Speech Content Related Cues in a Systematic Manner, Group Decision and Negotiation 13: 61–79, 2004
    lists a variety of possible cues and talks about tests of detecting lies using them. They conclude that:

    “there is growing evidence that CBCA scores, Reality Monitoring scores and some nonverbal cues, particularly illustrators and hand and finger movements are useful to look at. It sounds reasonable to suggest that the more these cues occur simultaneously in a person’s response, the more likely it is that the person is lying. Our own study (Vrij et al., 2000) showed that lie detection with each of the cues individually did not result in high hit rates. In other words, it is essential to work with multiple cue models.”

    “The combined analyses revealed the most accurate classification of liars and truth tellers with a total hit rate of 81% (85% lie detection hit rate and 77% truth detection hit rate).”

    One useful trick according to them is to compare the possible lie with a baseline of normal behavior for the person. But the method will only work if it is applied correctly, and they in particular point out the problems caused by making accusations that lead to biases in both the interviewer and interviewee. There is also a lot of widespread myths about individually reliable cues such as “liars look away” and “liars make many movements”, making many “expert” lie detectors actually worse than normal people at deception detection because they only look at single factors. The authors actually suggest a method to train away this bias, by having police either state whether people in a video are lying, or whether they have to think hard. Afterwards they can confront their scores and see that the thinking hard approach works much better.

  • billshit

    was he writing about autists?

  • Stefan King

    I try consciously to be honest. I used to ‘not lie’ much, because of the consequences of getting caught. A reputation for trustworthyness is a good asset. But since I made the precept of honesty explicit, I learned more about myself. First I thought I would lose the seeming tactical advantage of bending the truth, but truth has equal advantages. I now know I feel the urge to lie mostly about my professional output, which tells me I’m way to attached to other peoples percetption of my social status.