small room, e.g. in a prison
person who is accused of sth in a court of law
say sb is not guilty
To tell the truth, it’s hard to spot a liar
Not as easy as you think
Ten men are interviewed on video for ten minutes. Each man gives his opinion on important social issues such ascapital punishment and anti-smoking laws. All the person watching the video has to do is to decide which of themen are lying. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Most people think it does. They are confident of their ability to detect aliar. After all, we live in a society where lies are commonplace – in one study people confessed to telling at leastone lie a day (college students two). Yet psychologists at the University of California have demonstrated thatmost people perform really badly on the test, even though each liar gave a variety of clues. Even groups whomight have been expected to score better – police officers, lawyers, judges, and FBI agents – got low marks,showing little more skill than the man in the street.
What the real experts do – the give-away signs
In fact the only two groups of people who have proved consistently good at spotting liars are US Secret Serviceagents, and clinical psychologists who are doing research into lying. The reason why they’re good is that theydon’t rely on one single clue, a lack of eye contact for example, but they notice and interpret many differentsignals that liars often give out. These signals, which are different for each liar, and are virtually undetectable invery skilled liars, can be verbal and non-verbal. They indicate all the emotions which the liar wants to keephidden; guilt, despair, anger, fear, even pleasure – the intense pleasure some liars feel at deceiving their victims.Verbal clues include using a higher voice, making speech errors, or pausing. Non-verbal signs include things liketouching your nose, leaning towards the listener, and playing with small objects such as a pen.
The people who’ll deceive you best
One difficulty in studying lie detection is that experiments are rarely able to reproduce the motivations and pressures to succeed that liars experience in real life. ‘In the real world,’ said Dr Ekman from the University of California, ‘if a jury doesn’t believe you, you go to jail, and if your wife doesn’t believe you she leaves you.’Fortunately for husbands and wives, research suggests that they have a very good chance of getting away withtheir lies. It appears it is easier to lie to a partner and be believed than it is to lie to a stranger. Women, however,were considerably better than men at detecting lies.Another clue to spotting liars is how well educated they are. Dr DePaulo, another researcher, also found that thenumber of lies people tell increases if they have been university-educated. ‘Education gives people thevocabulary and confidence to deceive. The lies may not be important (so-called white lies) but they are moresophisticated and plausible than you might find elsewhere in society.’
Is your neighbour really who you think he is?
Dr DePaulo is now investigating people’s memory of lies they told in the past, and their guilt feelings. Telling alie, and especially being caught out, seems to make a very strong impression on us, and some people can stillremember lies they told 50 years before. However, some people go even further than simply telling a lie, and endup literally ‘living a lie’. One very dramatic case which came to light recently was that of a Frenchman whoconvinced his wife, family, and friends that he was a doctor in the French health service. For eighteen years hegot up every day and went to his imaginary office. In fact he used to drive to a free car park and spend the daythere. Sometimes he made up stories of medical congresses and foreign trips which allowed him to spend two or