A scientifically proven way of working out if someone's lying to you

The guessing game of being able to tell if someone is lying just became easier. All you have to do is grab a few friends to help.

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Ever find yourself wondering if someone is serving you a big tray of fibs? The good news is that there is a way you can help yourself get to the truth. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that group discussion is a cheap, easy way to separate truthful statements from lies, and more accurate than doing it on your own.

Doctoral student Nadav Klein and Professor Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business set up four experiments showing that group discussion doesn’t simply improve lie detection accuracy, but creates a new type of lie detection different from the currently-known “wisdom-of-crowds” effect, and reduced “truth” and “confirmation” biases which can occur in similar investigations. A “truth bias” is the inherent acceptance of a statement by an individual as being truthful, unless they are given a reason to become suspicious, whereas “confirmation bias” is the reinforcement of an individual’s opinion.

Two of the experiments involved participants watching a series of statements from different speakers and guessing whether each remark was a truth or a lie, both individually or in groups of three. However, the researchers also tested the group’s ability to distinguish the truth from “high-stakes” and intentional lies, by using clips of the game show “Golden Balls”, where contestants attempted to deceive each other for cash prizes. In some cases, the results show a 20 per cent improvement in lie detection compared to an individual’s judgement.

The study is a major breakthrough in understanding our abilities to notice lies, as current accuracy rates, even among professionals are, in the researchers’ own words, “only slightly greater than chance”. Exposing deception is notoriously difficult, costing time and money to better train a person’s ability, only to show little improvement, or having to use expensive software and technology. Group discussions allowed all participants to use any critical information they might have missed as individuals, as some participants might have been better than others at ascertaining the truth.

So, the next time your nostrils are hit with the suspicious scent of dishonesty, keep calm and reserve judgement. Just discuss it with your friends before confronting the “lying scumbag” before you.

Emad Ahmed writes about science and gaming. He tweets @ThisIsEmad.

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