According to a recent study by Dr. Winston Zeddermore of Nixon University, 1.3% of the population are perfect liars, deceivers so adept that even the most sophisticated lie detectors can’t separate the fact from fiction.
It’s a fascinating statistic until you figure out that not only is it not true but there is no Nixon University and Winston Zeddermore is actually the least famous of the ghostbusters. He doesn’t event have a pHd.
Don’t feel bad though. We’re constantly being feed lies about lying and mistruths about truth. So let’s get to the truth about spotting lies.
Lie #1. Polygraphs can tell whether you a lying.
If you believe TV and movies, polygraph machines are wonderful, magical machines that can detect a liar with a few cables, a little black box and one of those squiggly needles. The machine merely measures blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity. While these are all attributes sometimes found in liars, none of them guarantee that the testee is a fibber.
A large percentage of scientists consider the polygraph machine to be pseudoscience, something that looks scientific but ultimately doesn’t stand up to scientific rigor. No one actually knows exactly how invalid polygraphs are because reading the results of a polygraph are such a complex process that accurately measuring the results is all but impossible. It’s like trying to determine how ‘true’ a fortune cookie’s vague prognostications are.
However, even if the machine is correct 80% of the time it would mean that it could find a murder 4 out of 5 times but also accuse 1 out of 5 innocent people of being a killer.
At a best, a polygraph is an unloaded gun, a hollow threat used to trick a suspect into confessing.
Lie #2. Looking up and to left means you are lying.
In fact, it doesn’t matter where you look when you lie. The human eye is constantly darting all over the place creating a 3D map of our surroundings as we pick up new information. The very centre of the retina, the fovea, provides the HD images that our brain sees. However, because it is very small, it needs to move around to pick up a particular scene.
Besides, if starring someone in the face without looking away or blinking is sign of honesty then the creepy hobo on my train who always sits opposite pretty girls is the most trustworthy man alive.
Lie #3. Microexpressions give away deceit.
Microexpressions, tiny little movements on the human face, are common. These involuntarily twitches and tics last only a fraction of a second and, for many years, it was believed that these expressions could be used to spot a liar. In reality, these expressions express a wide range of emotions including amusement, contempt, embarrassment, anxiety, guilt, pride, relief, contentment, pleasure, shame and pretty much every other emotion available on the mood ring spectrum.
At best, a microexpression tells you that the person has human emotions, some of which they may not want you to know they are experiencing.
Lie #4. Good liars will drawn a Q on their forehead in a particular way.
According to this video by Richard Wiseman, you can tell who is a good liar by how they draw a Q on their forehead.
If you draw the tail on the left of your forehead, so someone in front of you can read it, then you worry about how people see you and are a good liar. People who drew the tail on the right side are more introverted and are bad liars.
Except that the study Wiseman is referring to focuses on the Fenigstein Self-Conciousness Scale, a since updated method of measuring how we think about ourselves in the world. The study itself only used a small sample of 67 people with some slightly dodgy methodology and a ton of post-hoc analysis.
Lie #5. Touching your face makes you a liar.
The theory goes that, when we lie, blood moves to our faces, making us itch. However, there doesn’t appear to exist a single scientific paper printed proving the theory. Instead, all you’ll find are Dr Phil articles, wikihow listicles and wannabe TedTalk videos all spouting the same story and all linking to one another as evidence.
In reality, blood can rush to your face because of exercise, high blood pressure or menopause. Don’t accuse menopausel women of being liars, they’ve got enough going on in their lives.
Lie #6. There is a way to tell if someone is lying.
There doesn’t exist a way to be 100% certain that someone is lying. Philosophers and artists have spent centuries looking for the nature of truth and all we have discovered is that our reality, our experience and our idea of truth is vague, coloured in shades of grey.
Paul Eckman, psychologist and expert on non-verbal communication, says it best: “We don’t have Pinocchio’s nose. Nothing exists which, if absent, means the person is truthful and if present is proof of lying.”
The techniques used by interrogators to spot liars are a guide at best, hints to point them in the rough direction of the truth. At worst, they’re lies themselves, the kind of viral bullshit that no lie detector can ever stop from spreading.
Nicholas J. Johnson is a Melbourne magician, author, entertainer and collector of scams.