August 03, 2007

Wikihow on lying

A few days ago I posted about how not to spot a liar. Then yesterday on my Google home page, under the category of "How to of the day," I saw a link called "how to communicate with body language." Being natrally curious, I checked it out and found a number of popular ways to read and understand such things as position of the head, eye aversion, movement of arms and legs, and other clues to deception, which could be the subject of another post. But it also included another link called "how to detect lies" that caught my immediate attention.

Part of this link repeats the advice found on the body language link, adding that we should pay attention to how a people smile, including such things as tightening around the eyes, moving only the muscles around the mouth, how people touch their face, nose, or behind the ear, how they avoid eye contact, and how they delay expressing their emotions, and how much they sweat. Ah, if it were only that simple! But what I was really looking for was what the link had to say about verbal language. I found some of the same old stuff about spotting a liar, including being defensive about questions, delaying responses to questions, and:

    • repeating the exact words of a question,
    • not using contractions,
    • avoiding direct statements or answers,
    • speaking excessively in an effort to convince,
    • speaking in a monotone,
    • leaving out pronouns,
    • speaking in muddled sentences,
    • equivocation in non-answers,
    • using humor and sarcasm to avoid the subject,
    • showing discomfort by pausing,
    • and changing the subject quickly.

It's hard to know where to begin criticizing this list. I leave it to you to decide whether using contractions, pausing, or leaving out pronouns indicates untruthfulness. And, mercy, you'd better not change the subject or produce a muddled sentence. Note that this list shares many clues with Statement Analysis, which I discussed in my earlier post.

Perhaps the best thing about the list is that it is followed by some disclaimers, including:

  • Just because someone exhibits one or more of these signs does not mean they are lying. The above behaviors should be compared to a person's base (normal) behavior whenever possible.

  • Some of the behaviors of a liar ... also coincide with those of an extremely shy person, who might not be lying at all ... or when the topic is sophisticated or the person is stressed.

  • Eye contact is considered rude in some cultures.

  • Botox, plastic surgery, Autism, or Asperger's syndrome can provide false positives.

I'm reminded here of those recent full-page, print-too-small-to-read advertisements for pharmaceutical products that  promise relief from various illnessses, but are required by law to include a long list of frightening possible side effects -- only in this case, the bad stuff seems to be followed by the possible good.

Posted by Roger Shuy at August 3, 2007 10:15 AM