Psychologists exposed liars by switching their attention

(ORDO NEWS) — The authors of the new study tested how the performance of a secondary task affects the arguments put forward by people who tell the truth or lie.

Lying is much more cognitively expensive than telling the truth. This well-known fact was used by psychologists from the University of Portsmouth in the UK and the University of Florida in the USA.

As the experiment showed, if liars are forced to perform several allegedly important tasks during a conversation (or interrogation), it is easier and faster to bring them to clean water.

“Truth and lies can sound equally plausible if the liars are given the opportunity to think carefully about what he is about to say.

But when this is not possible, the truth often sounds more plausible than a lie, ”explained one of the authors of the work, Professor Aldert Wray from the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth.

As scientists note, if the cognitive load during a conversation is increased due to certain interventions, this makes life more difficult for those who lie than for those who tell the truth: liars have fewer “cognitive resources”. But why is lying so “tiresome” for the mind?

First, it requires a lot of cognitive effort if not planned in advance. Second, deceivers must remember everything they say in order to keep the sequence of events and details.

Third, they are less likely than those who tell the truth to take the validity of their words for granted: a person in such a situation tends to carefully control his own behavior in order to appear honest. Fourth, liars must watch the reaction of the person being lied to and see if they seem convincing.

Fifth, liars are preoccupied with the task of constantly reminding themselves to keep lying. Sixth, deceit requires justification: the one who tells a lie must decide on each item whether to lie or not. Finally, before lying, a liar first needs to hide the truth.

One possible way to impose additional cognitive load on a person is to ask him to complete a secondary task while he tells his legend. The task is not easy, because the respondent will be forced to distribute attention between two tasks. This method of exposing a liar was tested by the authors of the new work.

The experiment involved 164 people: 49 men and 115 women, the average age is almost 27 years, most of them are British.

Participants first filled out a 20-item questionnaire in which they were asked to express their opinions on various social and current topics (they had to agree (seven points) or disagree (one point)). Then, for each subject, they chose the statements with which he most agreed – and vice versa.

After that, the participants were randomly divided equally into the “truth” group and the “false” group. Within them, 29 people were not supposed to perform a secondary task in parallel, 27 did it without encouragement, and 26 did it with encouragement.

The truth-tellers were asked to give credible opinions on three topics, while the “liars” pretended to hold the opposite opinion.

All respondents were told how important it is to be persuasive during the interview, because if the interviewer believes them, they will be entered into a draw for prizes of £50, £100 and £150 (in fact, everyone participated).

The secondary task was as follows: the seven-digit registration number of the car was shown on the screen for five seconds, it had to be remembered.

As an encouragement, some participants who could not reproduce the license plate number during the interview were allowed to express their opinions on the selected topics in writing after the interview.

The results showed that the liars’ speech sounded less believable, direct, and clear than the stories of those who tell the truth, but only when the liars were told how important a secondary task was.

Meanwhile, the scientists found no evidence that the “liars” paid less attention to the secondary task: both groups performed equally well on it. Therefore, in interrogations and interviews, such a parallel condition must be introduced with caution, because it will be effective only if the deceivers do not neglect it.


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