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The art of lying

Remember that one time you told your friend that you couldn’t join the outing because your mom didn’t allow you, to cover the fact that you simply weren’t feeling it? Or that time when the professor asked the class if there was any homework due, and everyone simultaneously denied it because most of the class was just swamped with homework from other subjects? Yeah, those were lies. Admit it—we’ve all lied on at least one occasion.  As the classic Billy Joel song goes, “Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue.” Dr. AJ Galang, a professor of the Psychology department, weighs in on the topic.

The Art of Lying2

The two kinds of lying

“Studies show that people lie to manage relationships,” Dr. Galang begins. “There are two kinds of lying: high-stakes lying and everyday lying.” High-stakes lying, he explains, is when people lie for criminal purposes, like perjury or fraud. People use these kinds of lies to avoid being punished by the law, or to better one’s reputation.

On the other hand, there is everyday lying. “People seem to use [it] to manage [their] relationships,” Dr. Galang explains. An example of an everyday lie is the kind that directly benefits the individual. He gives the example of a person lying about having tried surfing even when they haven’t. “So in that sense, it’s for their own sake in terms of trying to belong, trying to show that they have similar interests.”

 

The formula to lying

Dr. Galang knows of no generic formula to lying. Neither is there a discovered process that separates it from ordinary statements or conversation. He says, “You have to realize that just coming up with a sentence is already an act of invention.” The fundamental difference between lying and telling the truth is that you believe the lie to be untrue. “If you actually believe [that] what you’re saying to a person is true, but it turns out to be false, you’re not lying,” Dr. Galang explains.

Moreover, he explains it doesn’t take much to create a lie; in fact, it’s rather easy. The problem arises, though, when one tries to remain consistent to avoid being found out. “The more lies you generate as part of a high-stakes lie, the more you’ll need to keep track of all of those things and make them consistent with each other,” Dr. Galang says, before explaining that this added dimension to high-stakes lying is brought about by the pressures of not getting caught.

 

The physiological signs of lying

There have been identified physiological and emotional responses to lying—for example, someone who has just said a high-stakes lie would usually show signs of anxiety or excitement. Some of these signs can be detected and monitored by machines and devices, some of which are available in our very own psychology laboratory at the 3rd floor of St. Joseph Hall.

However, Dr. Galang points out that someone might end up wrongly accusing an innocent person of lying: A person telling the truth, but who is anxious of being accused of lying, could manifest the same responses as that of a liar. In contrast to that, he adds, “You can manipulate it, meaning you can make yourself have physiological responses, kasi what they’re looking for is when something changes.” Therefore, lie-detecting devices and techniques based on emotional and physiological responses could easily be misled. “Madaling mag-deploy ng countermeasures if what you’re monitoring is emotion,” he says. Unfortunately, he adds that experts have yet to find a “non-emotional marker of lying”.

 

The techniques of lie detection

Bodily movements and gestures, as well as voice tremors, are considered the tell-tale signs of lying; however, Dr. Galang explains that it has not been confirmed that these are reliable signals in identifying liars. “Generally, yung picture ng literature is that there is no one action na foolproof sign of lying,” he says.

Some popular lie-detecting techniques still exist, though—a famous one is to focus on looking at eye contact, and where the person directs his or her gaze. The problem with eye contact, Dr. Galang says, is that such behavior could also be apparent among non-liars, who are simply anxious of being misread or misunderstood. As for the direction of their gaze, he shares that the first study to that tried to prove its effectiveness showed no evidence that it works as a lie-detecting technique.

Microexpressions are another lie-detecting technique recently-depicted in TV shows. Dr. Galang again debunks this myth, though, saying that it is another popular technique that cannot actually pick out a liar from a non-liar. “Microexpressions are quite rare, actually,” he shares, “…after you’ve already told a lot of lies—and truths, at the same time—baka minsan lang mag-show ‘yun.”

Being slightly better than chance, the famous polygraph device is one of the most well-known lie detecting techniques. With an accuracy of about 60 to 70%, a polygraph is based on emotion and measuring the occurrence of physiological changes in the person’s body. However, again, it isn’t foolproof. Anxious people who are actually innocent may end up with a wrongful sentence under a polygraph test.

 

The trick to catch a liar

With all these issues surrounding the common methods of lie-detecting, it sounds like catching a liar is almost impossible. Dr. Galang’s advice? He says what people should look out for is whether the individual deviates from his or her normal behavior. He uses the example of hand gestures: If a person who normally doesn’t use hand gestures suddenly does so, then it may be a sign that the person is lying. This process, however, would entail having to observe the person beforehand, so as to be familiar with their normal behavior.

Asking questions is another good way of catch a liar, according to Dr. Galang. A liar works harder cognitively than most in order to avoid detection. Therefore, he advises, “Make it harder for them to think, so that they trip up at some point.” One should ask questions repeatedly to see if details are consistent—asking unexpected questions helps as well. Ask the liar to describe the place where they were supposedly in. People who are actually telling the truth will have an easier time answering this, compared to liars. The more details a liar invents, the more things they have to remember in case they are asked again later on.

Such techniques are only applicable to high-stakes lying—it’s harder in the context of everyday lying, Dr. Galang asserts. And even then, he still hasn’t seen a technique that works better than the polygraph. “The polygraph is not better than these techniques, but these techniques have not shown to be consistently better than the polygraph,” he clarifies.

It may be easier to get away with lying than we had initially believed—apparently, it takes nothing beyond a little creativity and some courage. To add to that, there isn’t even a foolproof method of detecting a lie. But it’s important to remember that as simple as the act may be, the repercussions that come in its wake are sometimes irreparable and damaging. Friendships and relationships can be severed with just one untrue, invented sentence. So is it really worth it?

By Josienne Cordova

By Brittany Aguilar

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