Feb 05

Who Lies and Why? Take Richard Wiseman’s Quick Test

Who lies and why? The first part of the answer is easy. Probably everyone lies at some point. Psychologist Robert FeldmanLying is a natural part of human interaction. 

The second? Nadia-Elysse Harris at Medical Daily quotes psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman as stating that “(s)ome people lie to feel better about themselves, others do it to cope with harsh realities. And most of the time, people lie to protect themselves from the actions and opinions of other people.”

Furthermore, most people get it by the age of three—if you lie, you might avoid parental disapproval. Psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Psychology Today, adds that this kiddie lying gets reinforced throughout the rest of one’s school years. “Desperate due to procrastination, heavy course loads, the need to work, students make a tiny foray into the world of the excuse-maker and liar. They aren’t called on their ‘family emergency’ by their instructor, so the next time they become more bold. Getting away with the excuse or lie strengthens their inclination to lie the next time.”

According to Whitbourne, other reasons lying continues involve memory distortions (a lie can become part of one’s memory), the use of defense mechanisms that protect a positive sense of identity, and use of biases that are self-serving (we make excuses for our own behavior but not when others do the same thing). See her article for further explanation.

Who lies? Do you? Experimental psychologist Richard Wiseman has devised a 5-second test to determine if you lie. Accurate? I have no idea—but I did like my own results.

Want to see this in writing? Wiseman excerpted some of his 2007 book Quirkology in The Guardian. In it he explains his concept of “self-monitoring“: High self-monitors are those of us who draw the Q so that it can be viewed by someone facing us. Low self-monitors are those of us whose Q can be read by ourselves.

High self-monitors tend to be concerned with how other people see them. They are happy being the centre of attention, can easily adapt their behaviour to suit the situation in which they find themselves, and are skilled at manipulating the way in which others see them. As a result, they tend to be good at lying. In contrast, low self-monitors come across as being the ‘same person’ in different situations. Their behaviour is guided more by their inner feelings and values, and they are less aware of their impact on those around them. They also tend to lie less in life, and so not be so skilled at deceit.

What about our ability to suss out others’ lies—the art of lie detection? Most of us aren’t so good at it, according to his research and that of others. “Liars are just as likely as truth-tellers to look you in the eye, they don’t move their hands around nervously and they don’t shift about in their seats (if anything, they are a little more static than truth-tellers). People fail to detect lies because they are basing their opinions on behaviours that are not actually associated with deception.”

A couple signals to look for, though:

  • Liars tend to say less and provide fewer details than truth-tellers.
  • Liars often try psychologically to distance themselves from their falsehoods, and so tend to include fewer references to themselves in their stories.

Are you as tempted as I am to echo one of the various sources (Metro) who’ve chosen to circulate the 5-second test seen above? “Of course, Richard Wiseman could just be lying about the whole thing…”