Wouldn’t it be nice to know how to tell if someone is lying?
We’re going to see what the research has to say on detecting lies, avoiding deception and more. And this is the industrial strength package. We’ll look at how to avoid being deceived by the pros in this arena: con artists.
Maria has insights from research on how you can get better at spotting lies and dodging fraud. She even sat down with real con artists to see how they think and act.
First, a warning: detecting lies is hard. Don’t think there’s a magic bullet. There isn’t. If there was, everyone would use it. And most of what you think you know is wrong. Here’s Maria:
There’s no Pinocchio’s nose of lying. There’s no telltale sign no matter what we might think, nothing that always signals a lie no matter what. There’s so much folk wisdom about how you spot a liar. They avert their gaze. They sweat. They blush, all this stuff. In truth, when you’re talking with good liars, it just doesn’t happen.
So what can we do to detect lies and avoid being scammed? Here are answers…
1) Use “Cognitive Load”
Telling lies is tricky. You need to balance the truth, the falsehood and try not to get caught. That means your brain has to work overtime.
Lying can be cognitively demanding. You must suppress the truth and construct a falsehood that is plausible on its face and does not contradict anything known by the listener, nor likely to be known. You must tell it in a convincing way and you must remember the story. This usually takes time and concentration, both of which may give off secondary cues and reduce performance on simultaneous tasks.
So if you want to make a liar reveal themselves, you want to increase their cognitive load. The more they have to think, the more likely they are to make a mistake.
How can you do this? Police detectives ask open-ended questions that make them keep talking. Unexpected questions they’re not prepared for are the best. Anything that mentally exhaustssomeone is good.
Maria also suggests trying the reverse of this: decrease your own cognitive load. Good liars will attempt to distract you from the facts.
Don’t let them. Ask questions to keep things simple so you can focus on what’s important. Here’s Maria:
Our cognitive load affects our ability to spot deception, so when we have a lot of things going on, we stop being able to notice as much. What we can do is try to avoid the cognitive load ourselves because they’re going to try to cause cognitive load for us. They’re going to start saying all of these things that disorient us and so we become more reliant on emotion rather than rational reasoning.
I’m not going to lie; increasing cognitive load isn’t always easy in an informal situation. And this method also has a bigger problem — it doesn’t work on professional liars like con men and psychopaths. Here’s Maria:
Unfortunately, when we’re dealing with con artists, we are dealing with a lot of those types of people for whom there is no cognitive load because they live this. This is who they are. They’re not lying to you. They’re not trying to juggle anything. They really live their identity as a con artist.
(For more on how to use cognitive load to beat liars, click here.)
So reducing your cognitive load and increasing theirs can help you detect lies with amateurs, but like Maria said, this won’t work with pros. What will?
For that, we need to use one of the con artist’s own weapons against them…
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