Seventy-five percent of the everyday falsehoods told by children are lies of omission or misdirection. The remaining 25% are hardcore acts of deception. Sadly, lying is a learned behavior, so the flow of hardcore lies will steadily increase until it reaches 60% by the time a child reaches adulthood. In this interview with Fox5, I share some quick tips on lie-spotting.
By Chris Simmons
In trying to deceive, liars may refer to previous statements in an attempt to create the illusion they have been cooperative and to buy themselves more time. This is true even if the earlier claim was actually a “non-answer.” In this countermeasure, typical replies would include “As I told you earlier…” “We already addressed those allegations…” or “Like I told Mom…”
Stating something once often leaves little or no impression. However, every subsequent “telling” erodes our skepticism or disbelief. Repetition is a subtle and often underestimated psychological tool. Even when we don’t believe someone, the recurring response reverberates within our mind and over time, can open one to the possibility that he/she is telling the truth.
As Vladimir Lenin so famously said, “A lie, told often enough, becomes the truth.”
Reminder: No single technique is foolproof. It is simply one of many tools available to help you discern the truth. However, deception generally manifests in a cluster of behavioral cues, which often provides opportunities to use several additional tools (in sequence) to preclude you from being lied to or manipulated.
How Often You Say ‘I’ Says More Than You Realize
By Elizabeth Bernstein, Wall Street Journal
You probably don’t think about how often you say the word “I.”
You should. Researchers say that your usage of the pronoun says more about you than you may realize.
Surprising new research from the University of Texas suggests that people who often say “I” are less powerful and less sure of themselves than those who limit their use of the word. Frequent “I” users subconsciously believe they are subordinate to the person to whom they are talking.
Pronouns, in general, tell us a lot about what people are paying attention to, says James W. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin and an author on the study. Pronouns signal where someone’s internal focus is pointing, says Dr. Pennebaker, who has pioneered this line of research. Often, people using “I” are being self-reflective. But they may also be self-conscious or insecure, in physical or emotional pain, or simply trying to please.
Dr. Pennebaker and colleagues conducted five studies of the way relative rank is revealed by the use of pronouns. The research was published last month in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology. In each experiment, people deemed to have higher status used “I” less.
The findings go against the common belief that people who say “I” a lot are full of themselves, maybe even narcissists.
“I” is more powerful than you may realize. It drives perceptions in a conversation so much so that marriage therapists have long held that people should use “I” instead of “you” during a confrontation with a partner or when discussing something emotional. (“I feel unheard.” Not: “You never listen.”) The word “I” is considered less accusatory.
“There is a misconception that people who are confident, have power, have high-status tend to use ‘I’ more than people who are low status,” says Dr. Pennebaker, author of “The Secret Life of Pronouns.” “That is completely wrong. The high-status person is looking out at the world and the low-status person is looking at himself.”
So, how often should you use “I”? More—to sound humble (and not critical when speaking to your spouse)? Or less—to come across as more assured and authoritative?
The answer is “mostly more,” says Dr. Pennebaker. (Although he does say you should try and say it at the same rate as your spouse or partner, to keep the power balance in the relationship.)
In the first language-analysis study Dr. Pennebaker led, business-school students were divided into 41 four-person, mixed-sex groups and asked to work as a team to improve customer service for a fictitious company. One person in each group was randomly assigned to be the leader. The result: The leaders used “I” in 4.5% of their words. Non-leaders used the word 5.6%. (The leaders also used “we” more than followers did.)
In the second study, 112 psychology students were assigned to same-sex groups of two. The pairs worked to solve a series of complex problems. All interaction took place online. No one was assigned to a leadership role, but participants were asked at the end of the experiment who they thought had power and status. Researchers found that the higher the person’s perceived power, the less he or she used “I.”
In study three, 50 pairs of people chatted informally face-to-face, asking questions to get to know one another, as if at a cocktail party. When asked which person had more status or power, they tended to agree—and that person had used “I” less.
Study four looked at emails. Nine people turned over their incoming and outgoing emails with about 15 other people. They rated how much status they had in relation to each correspondent. In each exchange, the person with the higher status used “I” less.
The fifth study was the most unusual. Researchers looked at email communication that the U.S. government had collected (and translated) from the Iraqi military, made public for a period of time as the Iraqi Perspectives Project. They randomly selected 40 correspondences. In each case, the person with higher military rank used “I” less.
People curb their use of “I” subconsciously, Dr. Pennebaker says. “If I am the high-status person, I am thinking of what you need to do. If I am the low-status person, I am more humble and am thinking, ‘I should be doing this.’ ”
Dr. Pennebaker has found heavy “I” users across many people: Women (who are typically more reflective than men), people who are more at ease with personal topics, younger people, caring people as well as anxious and depressed people. (Surprisingly, he says, narcissists do not use “I” more than others, according to a meta-analysis of a large number of studies.)
And who avoids using “I,” other than the high-powered? People who are hiding the truth. Avoiding the first-person pronoun is distancing.
Researchers analyzed the language on Twitter of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Mr. Tsarnaev used “I” words (I, me, my, I’ll, I’m, etc.) less and less in his tweets as he got closer to the bombing, according to not-yet-published research by Brittany Norman at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, and Dr. Pennebaker.
The researchers analyzed all 856 of Mr. Tsarnaev’s original tweets between October 2011 and April 15, 2013, the day of the bombing. They found that Mr. Tsarnaev’s use of “I” words dropped significantly as the bombing approached, with the biggest drop appearing in October 2012 (to 4.81% of his words from 9.57% the month before).
“The data suggest that Mr. Tsarnaev made the decision to do something that he had to hide at that time,” Ms. Norman says.
All his work leads Dr. Pennebaker to conclude: “You should use ‘I’ the same way you use a speedometer on your car—as feedback on yourself,” he says. “Are you being genuine? Are you being honest? Learn to adjust some, to know yourself.”
An Honest Vocabulary
People telling the truth use ‘I’ a lot. Other words they often use include:
by Chris Simmons
Depending on their age, a child may lie for any number of reasons. Most importantly, children under six are especially vulnerable to having trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy. Several years ago, the media widely covered an incident alleging widespread sexual abuse of preschoolers at a day care center. After exhaustive media coverage and destroyed careers, the police discovered that the children had created the story in response to parental attention to an innocent act of touching.
Older children and adolescents may, like adults, lie for self-serving purposes. However, by combining the tools of Human Chess (i.e., behavior analysis, body language, and discourse construction), you will find it much easier to determine whether your child is lying.
Step 1: Watch the child’s face.
The face of a truthful child will be relaxed and facial gestures (if any) will match what is being said. However, the face of a child who is lying or withholding information will likely show fear, apprehension, anxiety, or stress. Additionally, a lying child – just like a dishonest adult – will avoid eye contact and tend to slouch their shoulders when lying. They may also cover their mouth with their hand or cup their hands in their lap. “Micro-expressions,” the body’s involuntary response to lying, will also be apparent. One such common micro-expression is a smirk which flashes across the face (literally lasting less than a second).
Step 2: Listen to what the child says and how he/she says it.
False accounts often have inconsistent, illogical, or incredulous storylines. If you suspect a child is lying, have them repeat their story. The truthful version can be told repeatedly with little or no variation. However, a story based entirely or in part on lies may have radical changes or contain competing sub-plots that cannot all be true.
One of the best ways to detect a false story is to ask the child to tell the tale in its entirety. Then pick a random point and ask the child to go through the story again from that point-forward. Do this repeatedly with different start points. Another technique is to ask them to recount major events in reverse order. Lies are remembered from start-to-finish, so no matter which approach is used, the child will display visible hesitation in their story as they “replay” the tale in their mind. (This works on adults too).
Step 3: Is the child’s story rehearsed or spontaneous?
A truthful story is presented exactly as it occurred, that is, the narrative is a fresh telling of an actual event. Conversely, a lie may sound rehearsed or stiff. Additionally, the exact same phrases may be repeated when a child retells a rehearsed story. In addition, listen for changes in the level of detail. For example, if they are very specific about events, times, and people and suddenly glance over a segment (or vice versa), the “generalized” segment is always the part of the story they are trying to minimize. The child’s focus on the details occurs because it is true and therefore both easy to tell and remember. Moresophisticated children (i.e., teenagers) will also tend to focus on details as a distractor and to help support an alibi(s). (This is true for adults too).
Step 4: Watch the body language.
The internal discomfort associated with deception will often make a lying child fearful, anxious, or defensive. The shoulders – one of the body’s most accurate indicators – will generally slouch when a lie is told. Additionally, the child’s body or face will tense and he/she may repeatedly touch the nose or mouth, cover their mouth with their hand, and avoid eye contact. Of course, some children are always nervous when speaking to adults and this must be taken into account. However, when a child who regularly speaks comfortably to adults suddenly becomes nervous in telling a certain story, the child may be lying.
Carol Kinsey Goman, Contributor – Forbes.com
May 7 is National Teacher Appreciation Day, and the best educators could teach business leaders a thing or two about body language.
Pygmalion in the Classroom, one of the most controversial publications in the history of educational research, showed how a teacher’s expectations can motivate student achievement. This classic study gave prospective teachers a list of students who had been identified as “high achievers.” The teachers were told to expect remarkable results from these students, and at the end of the year, the students did indeed make sharp increases on their test scores. In reality, these children were not high achievers, but had been chosen at random from the entire pool of pupils. It was the teachers’ belief in their potential that was responsible for their exceptional results; a belief that was communicated not directly (the students were never told they were special), but subliminally through nonverbal cues.
In much the same way, a leader’s expectations of employees’ potential (as expressed by that leader’s nonverbal behavior) can also play a key role in determining how well people perform at work. This effect was described in a Psychology Today article, “Pygmalion Leadership: The Power of Positive Expectations.
Body language is the management of time, space, appearance, posture, gesture, touch, expression, eye contact, and vocal prosody — how you say what you say. From a body language perspective, teachers (and business leaders) send two sets of signals. One set of signals conveys status, power, and confidence. You send these signals by standing tall, using steepling or palms-down hand gestures, keeping your head straight, minimizing facial expressions, gesturing between your waist and shoulders, and speaking in a deep and forceful tone of voice. There are many occasions where educators and leaders would want to emphasize their competence and authority. But when trying to engage and motivate students or staff, these signals usually send the wrong message.
The second set of nonverbal signals conveys empathy, likeability, friendliness, and inclusiveness. These body language cues include a relaxed posture, smiles, open palm gestures, forward leans, vocal variety — and the eye contact, head nods and head tilts that nonverbally show approval and encourage others to keep speaking. Teachers who thought they had the high-achieving pupils used more of these warmth signals, and in doing so encouraged the exceptional performance they secretly expected. It’s something that more business leaders should try!
Editor’s Note: I (and other experts) disagree with Ms. Goman’s inclusion of vocal prosody as a component of body language. Webster’s dictionary, for example, defines body language as “the gestures, movements, and mannerisms by which a person or animal communicates with others.” The study and interpretation of written or spoken words and utterances is a separate and distinct field of study, often called statement/discourse analysis or discourse deconstruction.