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Gut Feelings More Accurate For Detecting Lies

Update Date: Mar 24, 2014 03:55 PM EDT

Gut feelings may be more accurate when detecting lies, according to a new study.

New research suggests that out automatic associations are actually more accurate than conscious thought in distinguishing Honest Abes from liars.

Psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business fund that conscious awareness may actually thwart our ability to detect liars because we generally focus on behaviors that are supposedly stereotypical of liars, like averted eyes or fidgeting. However, those behaviors may not be all that useful in determining an untrustworthy person, according to researchers.

"Our research was prompted by the puzzling but consistent finding that humans are very poor lie detectors, performing at only about 54 percent accuracy in traditional lie detection tasks," psychological scientist and study author Leanne ten Brinke, postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business, said in a news release.

Researchers said this is strange because the finding that humans are hardly better than chance at detecting lies goes against the fact that humans are generally sensitive to how others are feeling, what they're thinking, and what their personalities are like.

In the latest study, researchers predicted that the unconscious processes might explain these seemingly paradoxical findings.

"We set out to test whether the unconscious mind could catch a liar - even when the conscious mind failed," she said.

The study involved 72 participants who watched videos of "suspects" in a mock-crime interview. Some suspects in the videos stole $100 bill from a bookshelf while others had not. However, all of the suspects were told to tell the interviewer they had not stolen the money.

The study revealed that people are pretty inaccurate with it comes to detecting liars. The study revealed that participants were only able to detect liars about 43 percent of the time, and truth-tellers about 48 percent of the time.

However, after using behavioral reaction time tests to study participants' more automatic instincts towards the suspects, researchers found that participants were significantly more likely to unconsciously associate deception-related words such as "untruthful," dishonest," and "deceitful" with the suspects who were actually lying. Participants were also more likely to associate truthful words like "honest" or "valid" with the suspects who were honest.

Researchers said that the findings suggest that people may have some intuitive sense, outside of conscious awareness, that help us distinguish liars from truth-tellers.

"These results provide a new lens through which to examine social perception, and suggest that - at least in terms of detection of lies - unconscious measures may provide additional insight into interpersonal accuracy," ten Brinke said in a news release.

The findings are published in Psychological Science.

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