Feb 9, 2016

How to Tell If Someone Is Lying, According to Science

Eric Barker
Time
February 9, 2016

Wouldn’t it be nice to know how to tell if someone is lying?

We’re going to see what the research has to say on detecting lies, avoiding deception and more. And this is the industrial strength package. We’ll look at how to avoid being deceived by the pros in this arena: con artists.

To get the real answers, I called an expert. Maria Konnikova is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her wonderful new book is The Confidence Game.

Maria has insights from research on how you can get better at spotting lies and dodging fraud. She even sat down with real con artists to see how they think and act.

First, a warning: detecting lies ishard. Don’t think there’s a magic bullet. There isn’t. If there was, everyone would use it. And most of what you think you know is wrong. Here’s Maria:

There’s no Pinocchio’s nose of lying. There’s no telltale sign no matter what we might think, nothing that always signals a lie no matter what. There’s so much folk wisdom about how you spot a liar. They avert their gaze. They sweat. They blush, all this stuff. In truth, when you’re talking with good liars, it just doesn’t happen.

So what can we do to detect lies and avoid being scammed? Here are answers…

1) Use “Cognitive Load”

Telling lies is tricky. You need to balance the truth, the falsehood and try not to get caught. That means your brain has to work overtime.

Via The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life:

Lying can be cognitively demanding. You must suppress the truth and construct a falsehood that is plausible on its face and does not contradict anything known by the listener, nor likely to be known. You must tell it in a convincing way and you must remember the story. This usually takes time and concentration, both of which may give off secondary cues and reduce performance on simultaneous tasks.

So if you want to make a liar reveal themselves, you want to increasetheir cognitive load. The more they have to think, the more likely they are to make a mistake.

How can you do this? Police detectives ask open-ended questions that make them keep talking.Unexpected questions they’re not prepared for are the best. Anything that mentally exhausts someone is good.

Maria also suggests trying the reverse of this: decrease your own cognitive load. Good liars will attempt to distract you from the facts.

Don’t let them. Ask questions to keep things simple so you can focus on what’s important. Here’s Maria:

Our cognitive load affects our ability to spot deception, so when we have a lot of things going on, we stop being able to notice as much. What we can do is try to avoid the cognitive load ourselves because they’re going to try to cause cognitive load for us. They’re going to start saying all of these things that disorient us and so we become more reliant on emotion rather than rational reasoning.

I’m not going to lie; increasing cognitive load isn’t always easy in an informal situation. And this method also has a bigger problem — it doesn’t work on professional liars like con men and psychopaths. Here’s Maria:

Unfortunately, when we’re dealing with con artists, we are dealing with a lot of those types of people for whom there is no cognitive load because they live this. This is who they are. They’re not lying to you. They’re not trying to juggle anything. They really live their identity as a con artist.

(For more on how to use cognitive load to beat liars, click here.)

So reducing your cognitive load and increasing theirs can help you detect lies with amateurs, but like Maria said, this won’t work with pros. What will?

For that, we need to use one of the con artist’s own weapons against them…

Eric Barker: How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

 

2) Get Motivated

Face it, you’re not usually trying to detect lies. You’re trying to have a normal conversation. But con artists and other very experienced liars are quite motivated to deceive you.

Luckily, you can improve your chances of detecting deception just by being motivated like they are. Next time you think someone may be lying to you, really pay attention.

A simple bit of motivation to detect lies can make a real difference. Here’s Maria:

When your motivation is high, you actually become much more accurate at judging other people accurately. Most of the time, our motivation isn’t very high because that takes more of our resources, but when we’re motivated, we suddenly become much better judges of character. We become much better able to read cues. Then you start being able to discern certain things.

(To learn how to motivate yourself, click here.)

Pretty simple, right? And simple is good. So what else should you pay attention to when you think someone is trying to mislead you? Many say you should focus on the details of their story. Wrong.

If you really want to resist someone’s attempt to deceive you, you might want to pay a little more attention to yourself…

 
3) Watch Your Emotions

When we’re emotional, we pay less attention. Our brains take shortcuts. We get roped in.

Focus a little more on staying objective and not being swept away by emotions. Here’s Maria:

Emotions are the single most powerful driver of our behavior, because when we are in an emotionally aroused state, we start taking mental shortcuts that we wouldn’t otherwise take and we don’t even realize we’re taking them. That’s exactly what a con artist wants, so they draw you in emotionally and then you stop asking questions. You stop seeing red flags.

We’ll question facts. We’ll question logic. But we rarely question ourfeelings. And when we start trusting our feelings when someone is deliberately manipulating them, that can lead to bad decisions.

Why? Because we all secretly believe that we deserve to have good things happen to us. And when people give an emotional presentation that might be a little too good to be true, we want to believe it. Here’s Maria:

We are really good at saying “if it seems too good to be true, it is” — when it applies to someone else. We never think when good things are happening to us that they’re too good to be true. We think they’re just good because of course we deserve good things to happen to us. If you invested with Madoff, you didn’t think his huge returns were weird. You think you picked the right person with whom to invest. You said, “See, I told you he was good.”

So keep a cool head. Don’t get swept up by big promises and start fantasizing before you’ve examined the facts.

(To learn the four things neuroscience says will make you happier, click here.)

Okay, when you think someone might be messing with you, let logic rule. Great. But what form are the most hard-to-resist lies going to take?

Eric Barker: New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

http://time.com/4211927/lying-response/

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