If you have kids you’ll know the annoyance of coming home to find someone has broken your favourite vase, the one that had been given to you by your late Aunty Mavis. It had been sitting on the sideboard with a beautiful bunch of irises in it when you left for work that morning. You’d been thinking about those pretty flowers all day. However, if no one takes responsibility for the damage, how do you know who the culprit is?
New research from the University of Portsmouth claims there is a better strategy than quizzing the other members of your house individually. In fact, it might be easier to spot a liar when you question a group of people collectively.
Memory is usually an individual thing, however a group of people will also have a collective memory of a shared event. This means that when you get together to discuss a shared experience chances are high that members will interrupt, ask for clarification and come to each other’s aid on recalling those wonderful details.
If someone is lying you don’t have that dynamic process. There is no free-flowing conversation, no shared ‘script’ in the story telling, it is quite difficult to make an individual story consistent.
When it comes to a police investigation, consistency is a key element in determining those facts which are true and those that are a load of baloney. While it’s an effective method for our law enforcement officers, it’s not foolproof and if the crims have memorised a story well enough they can get away with lying in their individual interviews.
This research suggests that instead of doing separate interviews, the police might get a more effective and accurate read of a situation by performing collective interviews, where they can spot if the criminals are falsifying their statements.
Would you know how to spot a liar?
Lead author of the research, Dr Zarah Vernham says there are three keys to spotting one.
1. You need a baseline, that is a sense of what people look and talk like when their guard is down and they are telling the truth. When you’ve established that you should ask open-ended questions and look for cues, changes in verbal and non-verbal behaviour.
2. When it comes to verbal changes, liars will decline to answer, change the subject, change their tone and even object to a question.
3. You have to look closely for the non-verbal changes. The researchers say that the particular telling tales are in a person’s face, especially their smile. If you are offering a genuine smile it will extend all the way up to your eyes, but a fake smile doesn’t move passed the mouth. Smiles where one lip corner curls are particularly telling, with the research indicating that the liar thinks he or she is getting away with something.