Don’t trust your lying eyes…

This blog has already welcomed many posts on lying, how to detect it, and how poor we are at doing so. A New Scientist story provides yet another twist in the tale.

I interviewed the political broadcaster Robin Day, asking him about his favourite film. In the first segment he told me the truth, describing how he adored Some Like It Hot. In a second he lied, telling me how he loved Gone With the Wind when, in reality, he hated it. We asked viewers to watch the two clips and vote on which they thought was the truth. Almost 30,000 people telephoned, and the votes were evenly split between the two interviews.

So far, as expected. We aren’t good at detecting lies. However:

On the same day, we broadcast the two interviews on national radio and published the transcripts in The Daily Telegraph newspaper. An impressive 73 per cent of the radio listeners identified the falsehood and 64 per cent of the newspaper readers did.

Why should this be? It seems that body language and facial expressions give little guide to people’s sincerity. The most reliable signs of lying seem to be in the words we use.

So don’t look into people’s eyes, seek signs of nervousness, or judge their sincerity by their handshake. Ignore the evidence of your misleading eyes. Turn away, and focus only on what is being said.

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