Unconscious Mind Is A Better Lie Detector
March 25, 2014

Study Suggests People Possess An Innate, Unconscious Lie Detector

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Determining whether a person is telling the truth or lying might be easier than you think, thanks to automatic associations made in the unconscious mind, according to new research appearing in the online edition of the journal Psychological Science.

In fact, the authors of the study claim that those automatic associations could actually be a more accurate lie-detector than conscious attempts to uncover the veracity of another person’s statements – stereotypical signs such as a lack of direct eye contact or nervous and fidgety behavior, which might not indicate levels of trustworthiness after all.

“Our research was prompted by the puzzling but consistent finding that humans are very poor lie detectors, performing at only about 54 percent accuracy in traditional lie detection tasks,” study author Leanne ten Brinke a psychological scientist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, explained in a statement Monday.

According to ten Brinke, who wrote the study along with UC Berkeley colleague Dayna Stimson and Berkeley-Haas assistant professor Dana Carney, that means that simply guessing whether or not a person was lying is almost as effective – despite the commonly held belief that people tend to be sensitive to the thoughts, feelings and personality traits of their fellow humans.

The study authors devised a hypothesis that these findings could be accounted for by unconscious processes. They set out to determine if the unconscious mind would be able to detect a lie, even if the conscious mind could not.

To do so, they recruited 72 men and women and had each of them watch mock-criminal interviews of suspects accused of stealing a $100 bill from a bookshelf. Some of those individuals did take the $100 bill, while some of them did not. However, all of the suspects had been given instructions to tell the people interviewing them that they had not taken the money, which means that one group of suspects was lying and the other was telling the truth.

When asked to state which suspects they thought were lying and which ones were telling the truth, the subjects produced fairly inaccurate results. They were able to detect liars just 43 percent of the time, and truth-tellers only 48 percent of the time, the investigators reported.

However, they also used a behavioral reaction time tests known as the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to determine each study participant’s automatic instincts towards the suspects. The results of the IAT found that people were more likely to unconsciously associate words such as “dishonest” and “deceitful” to the suspects who were lying, and words such as “honest” and “valid” to those who had actually been telling the truth.

Ten Brinke and her colleagues confirmed those findings in a second experiment, and the outcome of their research provides evidence that some people could possess an innate unconscious sense that can detect if a person is lying. She said that the study’s results “provide a new lens through which to examine social perception” and suggest that “unconscious measures may provide additional insight into interpersonal accuracy.”