Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Self-reported ratings of deception ability were positively correlated with telling a higher frequency of white lies & exaggerations, & telling the majority of lies to colleagues, friends, & romantic partners

Verigin BL, Meijer EH, Bogaard G, Vrij A (2019) Lie prevalence, lie characteristics and strategies of self-reported good liars. PLoS ONE 14(12): e0225566.

Abstract: Meta-analytic findings indicate that the success of unmasking a deceptive interaction relies more on the performance of the liar than on that of the lie detector. Despite this finding, the lie characteristics and strategies of deception that enable good liars to evade detection are largely unknown. We conducted a survey (n = 194) to explore the association between laypeople’s self-reported ability to deceive on the one hand, and their lie prevalence, characteristics, and deception strategies in daily life on the other. Higher self-reported ratings of deception ability were positively correlated with self-reports of telling more lies per day, telling inconsequential lies, lying to colleagues and friends, and communicating lies via face-to-face interactions. We also observed that self-reported good liars highly relied on verbal strategies of deception and they most commonly reported to i) embed their lies into truthful information, ii) keep the statement clear and simple, and iii) provide a plausible account. This study provides a starting point for future research exploring the meta-cognitions and patterns of skilled liars who may be most likely to evade detection.

We found that self-reported good liars i) may be responsible for a disproportionate amount of lies in daily life, ii) tend to tell inconsequential lies, mostly to colleagues and friends, and generally via face-to-face interactions, and iii) highly rely on verbal strategies of deception, most commonly reporting to embed their lies into truthful information, and to keep the statement clear, simple and plausible.

Lie prevalence and characteristics
First, we replicated the finding that people lie, on average, once or twice per day, including its skewed distribution. Nearly 40% of all lies were reported by a few prolific liars. Furthermore, higher self-reported ratings of individuals’ deception ability were positively correlated with self-reports of: i) telling a greater number of lies per day, ii) telling a higher frequency of white lies and exaggerations, iii) telling the majority of lies to colleagues and friends or others such as romantic partners, and iv) telling the majority of lies via face-to-face interactions. Importantly, skewed distributions were also observed for the other lie characteristics, suggesting that it may be misleading to draw conclusions from sample means, given that this does not reflect the lying behaviours of the average person. A noteworthy finding is that prolific liars also considered themselves to be good liars.

The finding that individuals who consider themselves good liars report mostly telling inconsequential lies is somewhat surprising. This deviates from the results of a previous study, which showed that prolific liars reported telling significantly more serious lies, as well as more inconsequential lies, compared to everyday liars [15]. However, small, white lies are generally more common [18] and people who believe they can get away with such minor falsehoods may be more inclined to include them frequently in daily interactions. It is also possible that self-reported good liars in our sample had inflated perceptions of their own deception ability because they tell only trivial lies versus lies of serious consequence.

Regarding the other lie characteristics, we found a positive correlation between self-reported deception ability and telling lies to colleagues, friends and others (e.g., romantic partners). This variation suggests that good liars are perhaps less restricted in who they lie to, relative to other liars who tell more lies to casual acquaintances and strangers than to family and friends [22]. Our results also showed that good liars tended to prefer telling lies face-to-face. This fits the findings of one of the only other studies to examine characteristics of self-reported good versus poor liars, which found that self-perceived good liars most commonly lied via face-to-face interactions versus through text chat [42]. This could be a strategic decision to deceive someone to their face, since people may expect more deception via online environments [43]. As researchers continue to examine the nature of lying and to search for ways of effectively detecting deception, it is important to recognize how certain lie characteristics may influence individuals’ detectability as liars.

Deception strategies
We also isolated the lie-telling strategies of self-reported good liars. People who identified as good liars placed a higher value on verbal strategies for successfully deceiving. Additional inspection of the verbal strategies reported by good liars showed that commonly reported strategies were embedding lies into truthful information and keeping their statements clear, simple and plausible. In fact, good liars were more likely than poor liars to endorse using these strategies, as well as matching the amount and type of details in their lies to the truthful part/s of their story, and providing unverifiable details. A common theme among these strategies is the relation to truthful information. This fits with the findings of previous literature, that liars typically aim to provide as much experienced information as possible, to the extent that they do not incriminate themselves [35, 44]. Additionally, good liars used plausibility as a strategy for succeeding with their lies. This reflects the findings of the meta-analysis by Hartwig and Bond [45] that implausibility is one of the most robust correlates of deception judgements, and the results of DePaulo et al. [26] that one of the strongest cues to deception is liars’ tendency to sound less plausible than truth tellers (d = -0.23).

We also found that self-reported poor liars were more likely than good liars to rely on the avoidance strategy (i.e., being intentionally vague or avoiding mentioning certain details). Previous research suggests that this is one of the most common strategies used by guilty suspects during investigative interviews [46]. Additionally, all liars in our study expressed behavioural strategies as being important for deceiving successfully. This could be explained by the widespread misconceptions about the associations between lying and behaviour, for example that gaze aversion, increased movement or sweating are behaviours symptomatic of deception [2, 47].

There was inconsistency in our data between the responses to the qualitative strategy question and the multiple-response strategy question. Based on the qualitative strategy data it seems that Good, Neutral, and Poor liars do not differ in their use of strategies. However, robust differences emerged when we evaluated participants’ endorsement of the predetermined strategies. One explanation for this finding is the difficulty people perceive when they have to verbalize the reasons for their behavior. Ericsson and Simon [48] suggest that inconsistencies can occur especially when the question posed is too vague to elicit the appropriate information, which might have been the case in our study. Another explanation for the discrepancy in the data between the two measurement procedures is that data-driven coding is inherently susceptible to human subjectivity, error, and bias [49, 50]. Such limitations apply to a lesser extent to coding based on predetermined categories that are derived from psychological theory, an approach which has been heavily used within the deception literature [2]. In any case, future research should continue exploring the deception strategies of good liars using a variety of methodological approaches. In particular, it would be beneficial to establish more reliable techniques for measuring interviewees’ processing regarding their deception strategies. One potential idea could be to explore the effectiveness of using a series of cued questions to encourage the recall of specific aspects of interviewees’ memory or cognitive processing. Another suggestion is to combine the data-driven and theory-driven approaches, whereby the coding system is generated inductively from the data but the coders draw from the theoretical literature when identifying categories [50].

Some methodological considerations should be addressed. First, the results of the present study are drawn from participants’ self-reports about their patterns of deception in daily life. Sources of error associated with such self-report data limit our ability to draw strong inferences from this study. However, previous research has validated the use of self-report to measure lying prevalence by correlating self-reported lying with other measures of dishonesty [17]. Moreover, self-report data may not be as untrustworthy as critics argue, and in some situations, it may be the most appropriate methodology [51]. This study was intended as an initial examination of the strategies and preferences of good liars, and surveying liars for their own perspectives provided a novel source of insight into their behaviour. A constraint to the generalizability of this research is that we did not establish the ground truth as to whether self-reported good liars are indeed skilled deceivers. Future research could attempt to extend our findings by examining deceivers’ lie frequency, characteristics, and strategies after systematically testing their lie-telling ability within a controlled laboratory setting.

Second, one of the most frequent concerns about using Amazon MTurk relates to low compensation and resulting motivation [52, 53]. We took measures to ensure that our remuneration to participants was above the fair price for comparable experiments. Importantly, data collected through MTurk produces equivalent results as data collected from online and student samples [52, 54–58]. As well, mTurk surveys have been shown to produce a representative sample of the United States population that yields results akin to those observed from more expensive survey techniques, such as telephone surveys [57]. It speaks to the validity of our data, for example, that the self-reported prevalence of lies, and the endorsement of nonverbal deception strategies, replicates previous research. Nonetheless, the results of this study could be advanced if future research i) directly replicates our survey amongst different populations, for instance university students, and ii) conceptually replicates this research by evaluating different methodological approaches for measuring deception ability (e.g., via controlled evaluation) and good liars’ strategies for deceiving (e.g., via cued recall).

Implications and future research
This study explored the deception characteristics and strategies used by self-reported good liars. Deception researchers generally agree that the most diagnostic information is found in the content of liars’ speech [59]. Content-based cues to deception, however, may be less effective for detecting good liars who rely highly on verbal strategies of deception. This could even offer an explanation for the modest effect sizes observed in the deception literature [60]. For instance, good liars in our study reported to strategically embed their lies into truthful information. This finding has potential implications for the reliability of credibility assessment tools that derive from the assumption that truth tellers’ statements are drawn from memory traces whereas liars’ statements are fabricated from imagination [61, 62]. If good liars draw on their memory of truthful previous experiences, then their statements may closely resemble those of their truth telling counterparts. Another interesting observation was that self-reported good liars were more likely than poor liars to provide unverifiable details. This fits with the findings of previous literature on the VA, which contends that liars provide information that cannot be verified to balance their goals of being perceived as cooperative and of minimizing the chances of falsification by investigators [32, 33]. A fruitful avenue of future research could be to further explore liars’ strategic inclusion of truthful information and unverifiable details. Doing so may give lie detectors an advantage for unmasking skilled liars. It would also be interesting for future research to examine how good versus poor liars are affected by certain interview techniques designed to increase the difficulty of lying such as the reverse-order technique [63].

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