Guest lecturer discusses how to catch liars

Aimée Santillán

Looking at lies as betrayals of trust with negative outcomes, Leanne ten Brinke from the Haas School of Business and Department of Psychology at the University of California-Berkeley, talked about the ability to perceive lies at the Sarah M. and Charles E. Seay Building on Thursday.

According to ten Brinke, people are naturally bad at perceiving lies, since there is no reliable behavior that clearly shows a liar. She has conducted research to prove that there is an adaptive process that would help people more easily perceive liars.

“There is not one thing that lets us know if a person is lying,” ten Brinke said. “However, liars reveal themselves by their body language and voice.”

Brinke said particular facial muscles are sensitive to lies, and people could be trained to spot these. Also, she said liars are most likely to use fewer words and fewer details when they are telling a lie, and the pitch in their voice makes a difference.

“When a person is faking sadness, there is going to be a failed attempt of genuine sadness with the upper part and lower part of their face,” ten Brinke said. “People are not able to control all the muscles of their face.”

Noticing face muscles and the tone of a person’s voice are cues that will help a person detect a liar, but ten Brinke said these cues are not always effective.

“You use different cues for different situations,” ten Brinke said. “If you know what you look for, you can be very accurate.”

During her research, ten Brinke also discovered that people are better at detecting lies unconsciously than consciously. She found people who are distracted or who have brain damage are more likely to perceive deception.

“It is important for psychologists to use methods of unconsciousness and consciousness as a source of information,” said Jacqueline Woolley, psychology department chair. 

Ten Brinke’s research has covered different places of deception. She has tested in what conditions a person is more likely to lie and in what conditions a person is more likely to detect the liar. She said the environment influences deceptive behavior. People are better at detecting lies in a scarce environment.

“It fascinates me how creative her methods are,” said Kiki Ghossainy, development psychology graduate student. “She finds new ways of assessing this ability.”

Ten Brinke said people could be trained to be able to perceive deception consciously.

“My work suggests that behavioral signals of deception can be increased under certain evolutionary significant conditions,” Brinke said. “And these conditions can improve the human ability to consciously detect lies.”