Science of Truth-Telling

Veronique Greenwood reports on the science of truth-telling:

[Harvard’s Joshua Greene and Joseph Paxton’s] study suggests that honesty in particular is automatic only for some, which [John Bargh, a Yale social psychologist who studies automaticity,] interprets to mean that some portion of the population might be naturally honest, while others struggle with telling the truth. “It could potentially be some of the most intriguing evidence for group selection,” Bargh speculates, adding that the results are reminiscent of the evolutionary idea that “cheaters” and “suckers” coexist in a specific ratio in the animal kingdom. The classic example is parasitic cuckoos and the hapless birds that raise the cuckoos’ young. Bargh wonders if the ratio of “cheaters” to “suckers” exists in our species as well.

This echoes the new book by Robert Feldman, titled The Liar in Your Life: The Way to Truthful Relationships, which is the culmination of about 3 decades of research on the issue of lying in a casual and professional environment and how this affects our ability to trust others.

Time Magazine sat down with Robert Feldman to discuss the book:

One of the reasons people get away with so much lying, your research suggests, is that we are all essentially dupes. Why do we believe so many lies?

This is what I call the liar’s advantage. We are not very good at detecting deception in other people. When we are trying to detect honesty, we look at the wrong kinds of nonverbal behaviors, and we misinterpret them. The problem is that there is no direct correlation between someone’s nonverbal behavior and their honesty. “Shiftiness” could also be the result of being nervous, angry, distracted or sad. Even trained interrogators [aren’t] able to detect deception at [high] rates. You might as well flip a coin to determine if someone is being honest.

You can read excerpts at the book’s website and find out more about the book at Twelve Publishers.

I find myself struggling with being honest and not resorting to “little white lies” just about every hour and every day of my life.  It’s helped me to be honest about this and to have friends who call me on this and challenge me to be a more truthful person.  [via here/here]

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