Spotting a lie can be difficult – especially when studies suggest we lie multiple times every day.
While these little white lies can be harmless, it’s good to know how to identify lies so we don’t get duped later on when the stakes may be much higher.
According to new research, we are better at spotting liars when we rely on out initial gut instinct rather than when we think about it.
Psychologists from the University of California, Berkeley argue that our success rate rises when we harness our unconscious mind.
“What interested us about the unconscious mind is that it just might really be the seat of where accurate lie detection lives,” researcher Dr Leanne ten Brinke said of the findings.
“So if our ability to detect lies is not conscious – we simply can’t do this when we’re thinking hard about it – then maybe it lives somewhere else, and so we thought one possible explanation was the unconscious mind.”
Usually, we rely on clues – like looking away – when someone is trying to tell us something, or appearing nervous or scratching their nose to decipher if someone is fibbing or not.
But the research suggests that this is not an accurate assessment, with only 50 per cent of us getting it right int traditional lie detection tasks.
In the animal world, primates such as chimps are able to detect deceit – an evolutionary ability that maximises their chances of survival and reproductive success.
This ability prompted researchers to devise an experiment to test our skill to spot a liar. Particularly whether or not our unconscious mind would perform better than our conscious mind.
More than 70 participants were asked to watch footage of suspects from a mock crime. Some of the suspects had stolen money, some had not, but all of the suspects were asked to pretend that they hadn’t.
When participants were asked which of the suspects they thought were lying and which were not ,they were only able to detect liars 43 per cent of the time.
The researchers then asked participants to take part in a word association task to test their unconscious mind’s perceptions.
Participants were then showed pictures of the suspect’s faces and asked to describe them as either untruthful and dishonest or honest and valid – depending on what first sprung to their minds when shown the images.
The technique enabled a better success rate of identifying the suspects, the researchers found, providing evidence to suggest we have some intuitive sense that can help detect when someone is lying.
But this unconscious intuition may also guide other decisions in life, like who we date or befriend, psychologists believe.
“It’s possible that we make decisions on a daily basis as to who we are going to continue to interact with, so we decide to become friends with some people and not others, to continue dating some people and not others, or to work closely with some and not others,” Dr Brinke told reporters.
“Perhaps some of this decision is driven by our intuitive sense that some of these people we choose not to interact with are lying to us,” she added.