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human behaviour psychology

PSYCHOLOGY OF LIES

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Preface:

Lying is a very complex behavior, occurring in different forms and situations. It requires the liar not only to constantly keep the perspective of the to-be-deceived person in mind, but at the same time to remember and activate the truth, prevent the truth from slipping out, and flexibly switch between the lie and the truth. The affective correlates of lying seem to range from guilt and the fear of being discovered to a delight after successfully getting away with a lie. Because of the observed variability in the affective correlates of lying, most recent research on lie detection has started to explore methods that are based on cognitive rather than affective processes. Those methods aim either to measure the increased cognitive load during lying, or to measure lying indirectly by assessing whether a suspect recognizes critical crime-related information.

Human beings are gullible for a number of reasons, including a general tendency to believe others are telling the truth, and to be cognitively overwhelmed, and then irrationally convinced, by emotional arguments and displays. Consequently, allegations of crime laden with heavy emotion are more likely to believed (irrespective of the facts and evidence)—given the prevalence of Truth Bias (People believe others are telling the truth more often than they actually are) and the Affect Heuristic (describes how we often rely on our emotions, rather than concrete information, when making decisions) , especially in the presence of other factors that tend to increase overall gullibility.

What’s a lie:

Lies generally manifest as one of the following constructs of dishonesty: complete deception, half truths, exaggerations, and pertinent omissions. Lies are told for one of two reasons: either the deceptive person believes they have more to gain from lying than from telling the truth; or the deceptive person is incapable of discerning what the truth is, either temporarily or owing to some permanent mental defect. Lies may be divided into two distinct motivational categories: prosocial lies that are constructed to benefit others; and antisocial lies that are selfish. For example, a politic leader can be thought of as an antisocial liar, whereas telling children about Santa Claus is a comparatively prosocial lie

Lets explain:

  1. Complete Deception: This refers to the overt commission of a total falsehood; the construct is an absolute and utter fabrication and contains no truth.   Example: A complainant reports to police that they were sexually assaulted in a hotel room. In the report, they claim that they were dropped off at the hotel by a cab, alone. On investigation, surveillance video shows the complainant arriving at the hotel in a car driven by a friend not previously mentioned in the report.
  2. Half-Truths: This refers to the commission of a partial falsehood; the construct contains elements of truth to promote the false information that is present.   Example: A complainant reports to police that their car was stolen from the parking lot at their place of employment. However, on investigation, law enforcement establishes that the car was actually stolen from their residence.
  3. Exaggerations: This refers to the commission of a falsehood that is based on things that are true; the construct contains truths that are overstated and embellished to create an inflated impression that is ultimately false.   Example: A complainant reports to police that they were sexually assaulted, providing details that include being tied up and attacked in a bedroom by two males; and then being placed in a vehicle’s trunk, driven to a remote location, and sexually assaulted again in the backseat. On investigation, law enforcement establishes that the victim was sexually assaulted by a single attacker in the aforementioned bedroom. However, they are able to establish that the victim was not tied up; there was no second attacker; and that they were not placed into a trunk, driven to a remote location, or sexually assaulted a second time.
  4. Pertinent Omissions: This refers to the commission of a falsehood by virtue of leaving out vital contextual information; the construct does not contain lies, yet information is suppressed to create a false impression (or there is a failure to correct expressed misconceptions).   Example: A forensic nurse conducts a forensic examination on the suspected victim of a violent sexual crime. The nurse takes a history as required, and then writes a report that leaves out the victim’s illegal drug use on the day of the reported attack and their history of mental illness.

2019-2021 pandemic and lies:

The year 2020 has been tumultuous, to say the least, and has see a clear increase in lying behavior. There are many possible reasons for this. First, this year has been clouded by COVID-19, which could have directly led to increased lying behavior. A study published in August 2020 revealed that a significant number of participants are dishonest about COVID-19 symptoms and precautionary measures. The pandemic could also have indirectly increased lying behavior by drastically changing ways of living. For example, many people have been forced to communicate via video calls and other virtual modes of communication and research has found that the medium of communication heavily impacts lying behavior, with face-to-face communication being a deterrent because of the anonymity being behind a screen provides. Hence, it would make sense that lying behavior has increased as face-to-face interaction has decreased. The pandemic has also indirectly brought with it increased social media access and use. Pair this with a year of extremely polarised politic and a pandemic, which means fake news is rampant.

There is no technique or piece of technology that is capable of reliably determining whether someone is telling a lie. The scientific research demonstrates that most people do not detect lies with much greater accuracy than they would than chance (e.g., a coin toss); and the so-called “experts” in deception detection fair only slightly better. Pseudoscientific techniques of deception detection persist because they are subjective and open to interpretation. Subjective interpretations mean that analysts can shape the character of results in favor of prevailing political winds or to favor any preferred narrative.

Dr.Polina Samoylenko PHD psychology post grad childood psychology
University of Kyiv

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