Detecting signs of lying may be difficult

Research results from the University of Edinburgh suggest that verbal and physical signs of lying are harder to detect than most people believe.

While people are skilled at identifying common cues, such as hesitations and hand gestures, these signs are seen more often when someone tells the truth, researchers said in an article published on Oct. 12 in EurekAlert, the online publication of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.

The study also found liars to be skilled at suppressing these signals to avoid detection. To reach conclusions, researcher Jia Loy created a computerized two-player game in which 24 pairs of players hunted for treasure, and while playing were free to lie at will.

Researchers coded over 1,100 comments from speakers against 19 potential cues to lying, such as pauses in speech, changes in speech rate, shifts in eye gaze and eyebrow movements. They then analyzed to see which ones listeners identified, and which cues were more likely to be produced when telling a lie.

“The findings suggest that we have strong preconceptions about the behavior associated with lying, which we act on almost instinctively when listening to others,” said lead researcher Martin Corley of the university’s School of Philosophy Psychology and Language Sciences. “However, we don’t necessarily produce these cues when we’re lying, perhaps because we try to suppress them.”