10 January 2020

Liars, Lies and Lying

Welcome back. At the close of 2019, the most viewed post of the more than 660 on this blog was Facial Expressions Addendum

That 2015 post described the Facial Action Coding System for human expressions by Paul Ekman and colleagues. Facial micro-expressions usually occur when a person is deliberately or unconsciously concealing a feeling, which might be lying. (I refer you to the TV show Lie to Me, if you can find it.)

Are you a good liar, or does it
(from Walt Disney Productions)?
I hope there’s still interest in lying, because that’s the subject of today’s post. A recent study by researchers affiliated with Maastricht University in the Netherlands and the U.K.’s University of Portsmouth examined the association between deception ability and lie prevalence and characteristics as well as how “good liars" use deception strategies.

Lying Survey
The researchers surveyed 194 participants (175 U.S. and 19 Indian citizens) through Amazon Mechanical Turk with a two-part online questionnaire. Definitions were provided.

In Part 1, participants rated how good they were at deceiving others (1-very poor to 10-excellent); they estimated the number of lies they told during the past 24 hours; and they responded to multiple-response questions about those lies: (i) types of lies told (white lies, exaggerations, lies of omission/concealment, lies of commission/fabrications or embedded lies), (ii) to whom they lied (family, friend, employer, colleague, authority figure or other) and (iii) the mediums of deception (face-to-face, phone, social media, text message, email or other).

In Part 2 of the questionnaire, participants explained strategies they use when telling lies; how important they consider verbal and nonverbal strategies are for lying successfully (1–not important to 10–very important); and which verbal strategies they use from a predetermined list (e.g., reporting from previous experience, providing unverifiable details, telling a plausible story).

Lie Prevalence and Characteristics
Using the self-reported ratings of deception ability, the researchers categorized participants as poor liars (51), neutral liars (75) or good liars (68). Of the poor liars, 70% were female, while 53% of the good liars were male. There was no significant association between deception ability and education level.

The participants told an average of 1.6 lies during the last 24 hours (from 0 to 20 lies), but that was highly skewed. The six most prolific liars accounted for nearly 39% of the lies, and 39% of the participants reported telling no lies.

In general, good liars told the most lies per day, mainly white lies and exaggerations to colleagues, friends or others, such as romantic partners, not to family, employers or authority figures. They told most lies face-to-face.

Bar charts showing the participants’ use of different deception types during the past 24 hours; error bars are 95% confidence intervals (from journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0225566).
Deception Strategies
The only statistically significant association between deception ability and deception strategy was with “No strategy.” Nevertheless, all liars judged behavioral strategies important for deceiving successfully.
Number (N) of surveyed participants using the listed deception strategies (modified from journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0225566).
Favoring face-to-face deception, good liars commonly used the verbal strategies of embedding lies into truthful information and keeping their statements clear, simple and plausible. Good liars were also more likely to match the amount and type of details in their lies to the truthful part of their story and provide unverifiable details.

Poor liars were more likely to rely on avoidance, being intentionally vague or omitting certain details.

Wrap Up
The study did not survey a statistically random sample of any defined population, yet the results serve well for an exploratory study, as intended, especially in portraying good liars.

Not to spoil the moment, but I can’t leave the topic of lying without commenting on the president…Oh, never mind. Unlike when he says, “Everyone knows that,” everyone does know that. Thanks for stopping by.

Study of lying in PLOS One journal: journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0225566
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-12/uop-mtt122019.php

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