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ALL of us lie all the time. Yes, even you.
Professor Timothy R Levine, who has researched deception for more than 20 years, discovered that people tell on average one or two lies every day.
And researcher Robert Feldman found that strangers meeting face-to-face are liable to tell three fibs within just 10 minutes.
So the chances are you lie much more than you think.
Telling your colleague that you’re fine when you’ve been crying in the toilets for 20 minutes – that’s a fib. Sure, it’s not on par with: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” (one of the most infamous lies of all time from ex-president Bill Clinton), but it’s also not true, is it?
And telling a lie is only half the story – spotting one is incredibly difficult. “Everyone thinks they can spot a liar,” says forensic psychologist Mike Berry.
“But studies have found we detect lies only 48-60% of the time, and those who spot them 60% of the time are trained experts.” What kinds of liars should you look out for, and how should you deal with them? Follow our lie low-down…
“Lies are usually told to gain a connection,” says clinical psychotherapist Jerilee Claydon. “A fundamental human quality for survival is to maintain relationships, so if the truth doesn’t appear to be working, we often lie.”
This can be to protect your own or others’ feelings or to maintain your social status. Yep, like those Instagram posts about having the best holiday ever in the resort from hell.
“How many parents have lied to their children about their art, saying: ‘Yes, that looks just like Daddy!’ when really it looks like the back of a bus?” says Mike. “Sometimes we lie because people want to hear it,
such as telling someone their pet died immediately after being hit by a car rather than it suffering.”
DO… Assess why the person may have told the lie. “Are they embarrassed, insecure or fearful of revealing the truth? Before calling someone out, question if there’s anything to be gained by doing so,” Jerilee says.
DON’T… Tell a white lie if someone consistently asks you the same question. “You’ll have to remember it over and over,” Mike advises. “And don’t let someone else’s lie go when it could be dangerous, like: ‘Anna’s only had a glass of wine,’ when you know she’s definitely not OK to drive.”
These people can’t help but tell fantastical fibs, even if they’re ridiculous – it’s the joy of the telling that gets them going.
Take Donald Trump claiming that more people turned up to his inauguration than Obama’s – something a simple photograph disproved. “Compulsive liars usually hurt no one but themselves,” Ian says. “Unless they end up in positions of real power.”
DO… Identify the person’s reason for telling the lie. “Locating this weakness will often empower you, giving you the opportunity to render the lie insignificant,” Jerilee says. For example, bragging is often a sign of insecurity.
DON’T… Take it personally. “More excessive forms of lying are associated with mental health issues,” Jerilee explains. “A compulsive liar’s behaviour is more habitual than intentional, learned as a coping skill in childhood.” Consider collecting evidence of the lie, then gently suggest they seek professional help.
The really scary ones
“Pathological liars are cold and calculating and lie with specific, self-serving goals,” Ian says. “Often called ‘psychopathic liars’, they are manipulative, charming, credible and egotistical.
They lack the honesty bias we all possess that tells us being mostly honest is good, and use that for their own gain.” Frank Abagnale, played by Leo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, was one.
DO… Use this checklist. Is he/she narcissistic, selfish, obsessive, controlling, impulsive, aggressive, jealous, manipulative, deceptive, isolated, temperamental, angry? Has he/she had many jobs and moved a lot?
DON’T… try to “fix” them yourself. Pathological lying can be a symptom of a personality or behavioural disorder and needs proper psychological help.
“We start to lie between the ages of two and five,” explains Jerilee. “Up until a certain age, a child is consumed with his or her own world and doesn’t consider others’ needs.
When a child begins to lie, they are considering the response of the other, which is a huge milestone in cognitive ability and (ironically) the start of empathy.”
Ian agrees: “A child who lies well is demonstrating creative intellect – the ability to imagine alternative versions of reality.
Even simple lies require a leap of imagination.
Children who lie well must be able to recognise the truth, conceive of an alternate false but coherent story and juggle those two versions in their mind. If you catch your three year old telling
a well-told lie, be impressed.”
DO… Frame things factually rather than in an accusatory way. For example: “Oh, you broke the glass. Let’s sweep up the mess,” rather than: “Did you break the glass?” The latter invites a lie, the former assumes honesty.
DON’T… Automatically resort to punishment. “Ratcheting up consequences can force children further on the defensive,” Ian explains. “If they know telling the truth will get them into trouble and also know getting caught in a lie will lead to punishment, they will gamble on not getting found out and choose deception.”
Unreliable body signs: Think you can catch a liar out?
WELL, think again, says social psychologist Bella DePaulo.
FIDGETING: “Some truthful people who know they’re under suspicion will fidget.”
DILATED PUPILS: “Truthful yet highly anxious people’s pupils can also dilate."
AVOIDING EYE CONTACT: “Skilled liars who aren’t worried about being discovered may deliberately look straight into your eyes.”
- Sources: Human Communication Research and University of Massachusetts
- Born Liars: Which One Are You? Psychopath, Sociopath or Little White Liar? by Ian Leslie (£8.99, Quercus) is out now
- Follow Jerilee Claydon @Therapyproject
- Consultant clinical forensic psychologist Mike Berry is (Hon) senior lecturer at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
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