How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Distraction and Lying
Liars may use distraction in various ways to avoid being caught out.
In external distraction, liars provide excuses not to talk about the subject or otherwise try to distract the interrogator away from the signs of lying, for example:
External distractions are visible to the interrogator and may consequently be taken of signs of discomfort and avoidance of subjects where the person may lie.
Internal distraction is done within the mind of the liar, taking their own thoughts away from the subject where they might feel a need to tell lies. Some of the things they may do internally include:
Unless they are have a personality disorder where they have no conscience, most people find lying uncomfortable and stressful as they experience sensations of guilt and shame. Liars know that this is likely and so they will try to avoid having to lie or otherwise reduce the likelihood of them
Distraction takes attention away from the subject at hand and so avoids the need to lie.
Internal distraction is a particularly clever way of avoiding the signs of lying as it allows the liar to answer the question whilst reducing the chance of being caught out.
Ganis et al (2011) did an experiment by putting people's heads into an fMRI scanner and asking them to tell the truth and to lie. The simple test was to ask them if their birthday was on each of a set of dates, with instructions to press a 'no' button to all dates. When they lied this was visible on the scanner.
They were then asked to move a specific finger when they were lying. Just this simple act led to a significant reduction in neural signs of lying.
There are several possible causes of this effect. First, moving your finger is a distraction. Thinking about moving the finger means you are thinking less about how wrong it is to tell lies. Secondly, the action lent salience to lies, making them more meaningful. Thirdly, by associating the lies with something which is not 'wrong', the wrongness of the lies are reduced.
In doing this work, the researchers were particularly interested in testing the robustness of using scanners for lie-detection (clearly there are issues with this).
Try not to send signals that you are about to ask a question that the other person will want to lie about. This will give them less preparation time and the shock of the question may lead to clearer signals that they may be lying.