Unconsciously Knowing When Someone Lies

October 11, 2017 by  

Lying and ‘fake news’ dominates the internet, TV, and print. Therefore, it seems appropriate the look at some of the science of lies. Here’s the first…

Studies have found that we are not very good at detecting lies. We think we are, but we are wrong. In experimental conditions, we guess right about half the time –

Radiated Ratsnake, Copperhead Racer - Elaphe radiataoko_1oko_1same as flipping a coin.  I’m sure the odds go up when you know the person very well, but when you don’t, it’s guesswork on the conscious level. Anyway, back to the unconscious.

Researchers at Berkeley tried tapping into the unconscious with an experiment that went as follows:

  1. Subjects were shown videos – half were liars and half were truth tellers.
  2. Subjects guessed whether they were told the truth or a lie.
  3. They guessed correctly less than half the time

However, the subjects were then asked to do a work task which involved clumping words together, i.e. truth words such as honest or valid, and lie words such as dishonest. When they saw quick pictures of the truth tellers, they chose truth words.   When pictures of the liars were flashed, subjects gravitated toward the lie words. The researchers conclude that we unconsciously pick up cues. Maybe this is what people really mean when they talk about ‘my gut’ or ‘my instinct’. I’ve always been a believer in the unconscious; accessing it is the problem, but this is a nice study. A second experiment confirmed these findings.

So, I’ve been flashing pictures of my books as you read this. I’m sure you are headed directly to Amazon.com to stock up on all of them.

Source: L Brinke. Psychological Science

4 Reasons Why Honesty is Good For You

November 7, 2012 by  

A Notre Dame researcher asked subjects to stop lying for 10 weeks. During that time, she checked their progress with polygraph tests. The findings showed that, when people lied less often (during 10 weeks), they reported better physical and mental health. Specifically, people said they had:

  1. fewer physical complaints such as headaches and sore throats
  2. fewer emotional complaints, such as a reduction in tension
  3. improvements in close personal relationships
  4. smoother social interactions

Nice, huh? I suspect that the subjects were burdened by carrying around lies and felt relief and freedom from being honest. I wonder if schools other than Notre Dame would have quite the same findings………….

Source: Anita Kelly Ph.D., Notre Dame University

Lying On and Off the Couch

May 4, 2012 by  

There is little evidence that lying is useful.  It is usually easier to tell the truth because you don’t have to keep track of your lies.  It also feels better.  “If you have to lie,” I’ve told clients, “at least, don’t lie to yourself!” Lying starts early. Children begin to have the ability to lie around age three because, at that age, they have some understanding of their parents’ minds. They comprehend the notion of rules (and breaking them), and kids know that they don’t want to be punished. 

Adults lie for similar reasons – they want to look good, they are embarrassed or ashamed,

they are upholding some image of themselves, they don’t want to be punished, they don’t want to damage a relationship, and they don’t realize that lying will exact a high price from them.

Clients even lie in therapy – a strange place to lie when you consider the purpose of coming to therapy – but in many ways, therapy is like any other relationship, and people behave in similar ways. Why would people lie in treatment?  Same as outside. People want to avoid the painful consequences of telling the truth; they feel too ashamed to tell the truth; they fear being judged or rejected; they want to avoid the pain of the truth; and they want to be perceived in certain ways and the truth ruins that.

There is a real personal downside to lying. Lies place a high strain on your working memory and decision making abilities because you have to work harder to keep things straight.  If you are going to lie, it helps if you are the type of person who can detach yourself from the truth while you lie – like role playing or acting.  Not surprisingly, people who are natural born actors, those who are socially adepts, and extroverts do best as liars.

Anxiety Lies (Part 2)

December 24, 2010 by  

I am excessively fond of this phrase.  It is simple and true – how could you not like it?  Anxiety tells you that there is danger, either within or without.  If you are so inclined, you begin to believe that your body is in trouble (heart, cancer, whatever your vulnerability happens to be).  If you tend to see danger from without, you worry that you made a mistake, offended someone, behaved badly or other non-body fear.  Most of the time, these are lies.  Sure, some day you will get sick and, I absolutely can assure you that you will make mistakes, but not as often as your anxiety tells you that all this will happen.   Anxiety lies. It tells you that life is much worse than it really is; it convinces you that your behavior is worse than it is; it insists that a situation is far more dire than it really is.

 Imagine that it is not your precious anxiety that lies to you or exaggerates, but a friend.  Certainly, you would distance yourself from the nonsense; you would treat the information with many grains of salt, and also, you would discount the information you hear (or feel). Treat your anxiety like that lying ex-friend.

 A is for Anxiety  (Part 1) was posted here on 12/17.  You may find it helpful.

The Shock of Learning the Truth: Tiger and Elin

August 25, 2010 by  

Reading an except from People magazine’s interview with Elin Nordegren, Tiger Woods’s ex-wife, I was reminded of a dynamic that people often talk about in therapy after they have been surprised by some horrible revelation.  Here is the portion from People:

“I’ve been through hell,” the Swedish-born Nordegren said. “It’s hard to think you have this life, and then all of a sudden—was it a lie? You’re struggling because it wasn’t real. But I survived. It was hard, but it didn’t kill me.”

Reread the phrase, “It’s hard to think you have this life, and then all of a sudden—was it a lie? You’re struggling because it wasn’t real.”  This is a very thoughtful expression of a common experience when you learn a new, unwelcome truth.  You depend on your life and you live it every day, whether you are married to a famous golfer, alone, or any other configuration.  You shower, do your laundry, you may go to work or take care of kids (often both), you talk on the phone to your partner, parent or friend and you are not thinking that maybe my husband, friend, or mom has another secret life.  Like I said, you depend on your life and you believe it.

And then some important aspect of your life turns out to be a lie.

When you suddenly find out that your partner is cheating; when you discover that your dad has embezzled money; or when you first learn that your mother has a serious problem with drugs – you are shocked!  You cannot take in the information all at once.  You wonder if you have misunderstood the situation; at least, you hope that you have made a mistake. You feel like the world has become unreal (and it has).  The world that you were living in 10 minutes earlier has disappeared and you are now in a new and unwelcome reality.  You want your old life back but it is gone.

Elin Nordegren’s comment is astute – just like Elin, you wonder if your life has been a lie. The reality that you depended on has been proven false. The really creepy part is that you now have to also think about the past – it isn’t simply the present that has been shattered.  You are forced to go backward and rethink old conversations and past events.  Were they real?  You look for hints and clues and might have tipped you off.  While you are reshuffling your life in the present, you are also reshuffling the past.  You examine and reexamine old words and behaviors, reinterpret events in light of this new knowledge, and you begin to feel pretty crazy.  Give it time; this is normal. It gets better; it really does.  You get stronger and smarter and more confident.

Shocking news doesn’t just disrupt your life in the present. It upsets today and tomorrow but also causes a review of your past – what was real and what was a lie.