Tuesday, July 26, 2011

You Can Tell If Someone is Lying, Right?


Now that world-famous Sofitel Hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo has given an extended interviews to Newsweek and to TV's ABC News, and everybody in the country has had plenty of practice analyzing Casey Anthony's every eyebrow movement, you can tell if someone is lying, right?  You, your friends and family, and those expert talking heads on the small screen.

Just google "tell if someone is lying" and 73 million links to articles, books, etc  pop onto your screen.  Surely a million of those must give reading microexpressions and mismatches in body language or blink rate some credibility.  Here's a typical one from Forbes Magazine if you've never explored the subject, and, unlike a lot of the lying information gurus, author Elisabeth Eaves is experienced journalist enough to put a disclaimer at the front of the article, titled "Ten Ways to Tell If Someone is Lying":

[Disclaimer:]  "Psychologists who study deception, though, are quick to warn that there is no foolproof method. Bella DePaulo, a visiting professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, writes that “lying is not a distinct psychological process with its own unique behavioral indicators. It does matter how liars feel and how they think.” Indeed, many of the tell-tale signs common to liars, like fidgeting and sweating, can also be signs of ordinary anxiety. It’s tough to tell the difference between a liar and an honest person who happens to be under a lot of stress."
Unfortunately, this paragraph registers with the reader the same way the "I agree" radio button impacts your brain when you are loading new software, i.e. not at all.  Yeah, yeah, but what are the 10 ways!

Time to put on the breaks with this everyman/woman as lie detector thing, IMO.  Two very capable bloggers have put the facts about lie detecting within everyone's reach, journalist Scott Henson, who writes "Grits for Breakfast", and attorney Scott Greenfield, writing "Simple Justice".  These posts which completely debunk, from inside the legal system and the law enforcement/interrogator nexus, the lie that everybody to some extent, but especially experts, can tell when someone is lying.

I recommend, for your own education, and to keep you out of disastrous personal situations where you plow ahead believing with all your heart that you have correctly assessed truthfulness and reliability, only to have the facts smack you upside the head at a later date, that you read these blog articles.  To get you started, here's a taste:
"Numerous controlled studies have shown that people are not good intuitive judges of truth and deception, typically performing at no better than chance levels of accuracy. Controlled studies have also shown that even investigators and other supposed experts who routinely evaluate deceptive behavior are highly prone to error. Moreover, Kassin and Fong have shown that police interrogators and others specifically trained in the [Behavioral Analysis Interview technique taught by John Reid and Associates] not only fail to discriminate accurately between true and false statements much of th time, but also that behavior analysis training actually lowers the ability of police interrogators to discriminate accurately between true and false denials. Further, such training inflates their confidence in their judgments. (citations omitted) [Richard Leo, Police Interrogations and American Justice pp. 98-99][bold added by WNL]
WNL:  Humility and doing the hard work of what corporate attorneys call due diligence (digging out the facts before making a deal) will serve you in personal relationships or your public duties as a juror far better than relying on your abilility, trained or untrained, to tell lies from the truth.  There is no such thing as a lie detector test no matter what you may have seen on TV (are those black boxes even plugged in?)


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