LIE DETECTION – A MYTH OR SCIENCE?
FADI ABU ZUHRI
In the current era of technological advancements, there is an increasing interest of testing the lie detection methods. Different scholars have gained interest in testing whether lie detection is a science or myth. What is evident is that, in most cases, liars may not offer telltale signs of their dishonesty. As such, it is difficult to identify the persons who are telling the truth or those who tell lies. In most cases, a lie could be embedded in some truth. There is also a small difference between the people telling the truth and those who tell lies. A common mistake that has been made by lie detectors is putting so much emphasis on the nonverbal cues. For example, lie detectors neglect the actions of an individual when he or she is telling the truth. They only record the actions of liars when they are lying. Lie detectors have also proved to be overly confident in their skill of detection (Ask, Granhag, Juhlin, & Vrij, 2013). In this case, there have been a number of misconceptions when it comes to deceptions. This paper discusses the fact that lie detection is science rather that a myth believed by some proponents.
WHAT IS LYING
Lying can be defined using many approaches. Lying is seen as communication that is falsified and intended to benefit only one party. This classification covers a broad range of subjects – from humans to plants. In a plant, deception may be experienced in a situation where a male wasp is seduced by orchid flower, which produces smell creating an illusion of mating. The gainer is the orchid because, in the course of deception, the wasp acts as an agent of pollination. This approach is not conventionally used because it includes an act of misleading as a way of deception. Lying can be defined as an act that is meant to manipulate other people believe something he or she knows is untrue (Zuckerman, DePaulo, & Rosenthal, 1981; Krauss, 1981). Lying is a part of everyday life, sometimes causing harm and sometimes “white lies” may even benefit the lie receiver by acting as a social lubricant (Vrij, 2008).
GOOD LIARS AND POOR LIARS
Vrij (2008) argues that everybody has an idea of what lying is. Everybody knows that lying is something that is not acceptable in the society. The myth here is pretending that we seldom lie because humans cannot accept themselves as miserable liars. Since lying is unacceptable in society, people opt for others means of deceit. In the long run, they spend little time with liars and completely avoid them. Most individuals in the world are sick liars; they forget that they are lying and reveal their deceit by being nervous or avoiding eye contact. The author notes that people tend to be good detectors when monitoring their children, and close friends. Criminals accomplish their objective by deceiving others. Then there are professional lie catchers who are technically trained to catch lies. There has been a revolution in technology with the development of machines technically designed to detect lies. An example is the brain-scanner, which is used by researchers to monitor the thoughts and feeling of somebody directly (Vrij, 2008).
There is a big difference between good liars and poor lie detectors. Most people assume that they don’t lie and by so doing they are underestimating their ability to lie. There are many ways of telling why people believe that they are the worst liars than they thought. First, they overestimate how honest they are with their feelings and thought to others. By saying so, Vrij (2008) implied that people believe that their lies trend all the way. Second, the selfish act makes people see themselves as more morally upright than others (Kaplar & Gordon, 2004). When someone admits that he or she is a good liar, he or she complicates the good self-image. People will tend to disclose their white lies and hide dangerous lies (Elaad, 2003). This shows that it is easy to detect a dangerous lie compared to white lie because people will remember the lies that can be easily noticed. Lastly, people will remember instances when they lied and were detected that than instances when they lied successfully. When people forget how easily they can lie, they are underestimating their ability to lie (Vrij, 2008).
WHY LIES REMAIN UNNOTICED
The reason why people lies go unnoticed is that no efforts are put in detecting them, and they do not want to know the truth. Vrij (2008) calls it the ostrich effect and states that there are at least three reasons as to why people don’t like to know or accept the truth. One, the truth may be bitter and people prefer to stay ignorant by believing a more “pleasant” lie. Second, people fear consequences that the truth may present. They are afraid of what they would need to do if they were to accept the truth. Third, people fear not knowing what to do if they came to know the truth.
THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND LIE DETECTION
Even though, lie detection has been used in many contexts, the technique has been misunderstood in many ways. Lie detection is one complex technique and requires a personal judgment. The scientific underpinnings used in lie detection are less straightforward than other tests like the breath-alcohol test. The nature of lie detection makes it interesting to analyze especially from the basis of science. It uses the methods and conclusions of a number of disciplines that deal with behavior and human physiology. Lie detection also offers a vital probability issue that is applicable in criminal law (O’Sullivan, 2007).
In 1895, a mix of pulse reading and blood pressure was used to investigate crime. Other experiments done in lie detection have used blood pressure, and respiratory recordings. The science of lie detection was equally tested by the polygraph created by Larson John. The polygraph used the three measurements (pulse, blood pressure, and respiration) in lie detection. The Keeler, made by Leonarder Keeler, introduced the galvanic response of the skin to the list. The key improvement in the Keeler is the ability to obviate and record the blood pressure distortions especially in the readings that could result from muscular flexing (Evans & Stanovich, 2013).
In most cases, the procedure used in lie detection such as the polygraph test is done by experienced examiners in a controlled environment. The examiner will engage in questions that depend on the preliminary interview results together with different circumstances and facts that create an accusation basis. Some questions would be variable depending on the individual being questioned. Many studies on lie detection have proposed the use of some systematically designed models as ways of measuring the physiological activities and creating the last credibility judgment (Frank & Ekman, 2004).
Even though lie detection appears extremely useful, a number of results obtained from lie detectors have been excluded from trial (Albrechtsen, Meissner, & Susa, 2009). There is a possibility that the validation and the verdict could be wrong just like the lie detector (Etcoff, Ekman, Magee, & Frank, 2000). In this case, lie detection procedures have no independent means of checking the phenomena which is lying or confirming whether the accused person lied.
DIFFICULTIES WITH DETECTING LIES
Detecting liars and lies is not an easy task. Even professional lie detectors, like police officers and intelligence officers, fail to do so in most cases. Research shows that professionals also make wrong decisions and fail to distinguish between a lie and truth. One reason behind failing to detect a lie is due to the complexity of the task. There is no single response from a liar that a lie detector can rely on to truly capture a liar. A liar who is determined to lie will avoid being caught at all cost, and there will be an attempt to hide nonverbal, psychological and verbal signs. Liars will try at all cost to create an accurate impression to lie detectors to avoid being caught. They will employ informed tactics to fool whoever is trying to fool them, living the lie detector with mixed feelings about the situation. There are many errors committed by lie detectors that hinder them from knowing the truth; they may tend to focus more on signs that are not linked with the lie. This may be contributed to the fact that they were trained to do so. Some of the techniques the detectors are trained to might be well known by the liars thus making it hard for them to separate the truth from a lie (Vrij, 2008).
Lack of realism is another contributor to the lack of ability to detect lies. Many studies mention that a lie can be detected by observing how people are behaving, screening their speech and analyzing their psychological responses. When lie detectors are conversant with these principles, they are so proud to have the ability to detect deception. Research experts have claimed to have the capacity to detect lies, but they fail to support their study with evidence. Interestingly, lie detectors who have been trained to look for certain cues tend to perform worse than those who do not (Kassin & Fong, 1999; Mann, Vrij, & Bull, 2004).
Lie detection is a science and not a myth since the procedure used in lie detection follows a practical and intellectual activity involving a systematic study of behavior and structure of the natural and physical world using experiment and observation (Moore, Cappelli, Caron, Shaw, Spooner, & Trzeciak, 2011). The process of lie detection, however, could be improved if methods of testing the validity are improved.
While it is important to understand nonverbal, verbal, and physiological indicators of deceit, it is equally important for a lie detector to know which is indicator is more valuable. We sometimes tend to place more emphasis on nonverbal cues when detecting deception, however differences in cultural behaviors may define nonverbal indicators more than lying itself. This leads us to suggest that Emotional Intelligence (EQ), a combination of People Intelligence (PQ) and Cultural Intelligence (CQ), has a key role to play in lie detection.
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