Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Twitter Updates for 2010-07-31

  • How police interviewers’ influence strategies affect whether suspects from different cultures provide info. #
  • Journal article on investigative interviewing practices in China. #
  • Journal article: Truth bias and regression toward the mean phenomenon in detecting deception. #
  • Can the Implicit Association Test be used to distinguish truthful and deceitful witnesses? Yes and no. Journal article: #

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Research round-up 3: It’s magic

This is the third in the series of posts on research published in 2008 that I didn’t get a chance to blog about when it came out. The last two were pretty long posts so treat this one as a brief bit of light relief before we get down to the serious business of when people lie, in part 4.

Magic is mostly deception for fun, but studying how magicians pull the wool over our eyes can also teach us about how we are deceived by serious and determined liars. 2008 saw not one but two articles arguing for the study of magicial tricks as a vehicle for better understanding human cognition:

  • Gustav Kuhn, Alym A. Amlani and Ronald A. Rensink (2008). Towards a science of magic. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 12(9): 349-354

It is argued here that cognitive science currently neglects an important source of insight into the human mind: the effects created by magicians. Over the centuries, magicians have learned how to perform acts that are perceived as defying the laws of nature, and that induce a strong sense of wonder. This article argues that the time has come to examine the scientific bases behind such phenomena, and to create a science of magic linked to relevant areas of cognitive science. Concrete examples are taken from three areas of magic: the ability to control attention, to distort perception, and to influence choice. It is shown how such knowledge can help develop new tools and indicate new avenues of research into human perception and cognition. [Pre-print pdf available]

Just as vision scientists study visual art and illusions to elucidate the workings of the visual system, so too can cognitive scientists study cognitive illusions to elucidate the underpinnings of cognition. Magic shows are a manifestation of accomplished magic performers’ deep intuition for and understanding of human attention and awareness. By studying magicians and their techniques, neuroscientists can learn powerful methods to manipulate attention and awareness in the laboratory. Such methods could be exploited to directly study the behavioural and neural basis of consciousness itself, for instance through the use of brain imaging and other neural recording techniques.

The NRN paper got more press attention, with extensive coverage in the New York Times (11 August 2008) and the Boston Globe (3 August 2008). It was also very nicely summarised by the always-fabulous PsyBlog and commented on by the wonderful Mind Hacks. Meanwhile, the TiCS paper, which got little more than a nod in the Boston Globe, was covered in more detail in the Guardian (25 July).

There’s some more background and links over at the web home of NRN article co-author Susanna Martinez-Conde and at Stephen Macknick’s web site. For fun, here’s another Mind Hacks post on magic. Enjoy!

Next post: Part 4: When people lie

“The more sophisticated the animal, it seems, the more commonplace the con games”

New York Times reports on deception in the animal kingdom in A Highly Evolved Propensity for Deceit (22 Dec)

…Deceitful behavior has a long and storied history in the evolution of social life, and the more sophisticated the animal, it seems, the more commonplace the con games, the more cunning their contours.

In a comparative survey of primate behavior, Richard Byrne and Nadia Corp of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found a direct relationship between sneakiness and brain size. The larger the average volume of a primate species’ neocortex — the newest, “highest” region of the brain — the greater the chance that the monkey or ape would pull a stunt like this one described in The New Scientist: a young baboon being chased by an enraged mother intent on punishment suddenly stopped in midpursuit, stood up and began scanning the horizon intently, an act that conveniently distracted the entire baboon troop into preparing for nonexistent intruders.

There’s much more, including tales of deception by dophins, butterflies, chimps and college students.

Robots Evolve And Learn How to Lie

robot boyI was completely charmed by a report in the online science magazine Discover this week (h/t Slashdot):

Robots can evolve to communicate with each other, to help, and even to deceive each other, according to Dario Floreano of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Floreano and his colleagues outfitted robots with light sensors, rings of blue light, and wheels and placed them in habitats furnished with glowing “food sources” and patches of “poison” that recharged or drained their batteries. Their neural circuitry was programmed with just 30 “genes,” elements of software code that determined how much they sensed light and how they responded when they did.

… To create the next generation of robots, Floreano recombined the genes of those that proved fittest—those that had managed to get the biggest charge out of the food source. The resulting code … was downloaded into the robots to make … offspring… By the 50th generation, the robots had learned to communicate… The fourth colony sometimes evolved “cheater” robots instead, which would light up to tell the others that the poison was food, while they themselves rolled over to the food source and chowed down without emitting so much as a blink.

The research of Floreano and colleagues is reported in the March 2007 issue of Current Biology. The researchers created four conditions for their experiments, varying the relatedness of the robots (how similar their ‘genes’ and programming were) and whether selection was on an individual level or colony level: “In the individual-level selection regime, the genomes of the 20% robots with the highest individual performance … were selected to form the next generation, whereas in the colony-level selection regime, we randomly selected all robots… from the 20% most efficient colonies” (p.514).

‘Deceptive’ communication only evolved when the robots were not closely ‘related’ to each other and selection was on an individual rather than a colony level. In this condition, “an analysis of individual behaviors revealed that … robots tended to emit blue light when far away from the food.” Despite this, and “contrary to what one would expect, the robots still tended to be attracted rather than repelled by blue light… ” (p.517).

The authors suggest that this is because, at least in early stages of evolution, more blue light = more robots, and robots tended to congregate around ‘food’. So, “the greater level of blue light emission associated with the greater density of robots near food provided a useful cue about food location”.

They go on to explain that “emission of light far from the food would then have evolved as a deceptive strategy for decreasing competition near the food. Consistent with this view, the tendency of robots to be attracted by blue light significantly decreased during the last 200 generations” (p.517).

There was a cost, however. This experimental condition (low-relatedness robots and individual-level selection) was the only condition…

… where the possibility to communicate did not translate into a higher foraging efficiency …In this case, the ability to signal resulted in a deceptive signaling strategy associated with a significant decrease in colony performance compared to the situation where robots could not emit blue light (p.517).

In other words, lying about where the food is might be good for the individual, but it doesn’t help the colony very much.


Photo credit: baboon™, Creative Commons License

Abstract below the fold.

Continue reading Robots Evolve And Learn How to Lie

Hat tip to Dr Steve

Two posts on lying by Dr Steve over at The Top Two Inches blog:

In Lord, Lord, how this world is given to lying! Dr Steve discusses different types of falsehood, mendacity and self-deception, in an effort to “show how tricky it is to define lying or the lie”. He concludes that

What qualifies something as a lie, then, is not its truth or falsity, but the conscious (or unconscious) attempt to deceive (or be deceived by) others (and/or oneself).

Great post and some lovely comments, and followed up the next day with 35 aphorisms on liars and lying. My favourites:

3. Mark Twain: “One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives.” Mark Twain also has number 29: “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.”

4. Samuel Butler: “The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.”

11. Mr Justice Darling: “Much truth is spoken, that more may be concealed.”

and finally:

32. Dr. Johnson: “A man would rather have a hundred lies told of him, than one truth which he does not wish to be told.” Indeed.

The Construction of Truth and Lies in Drug Court

teendrugAn article in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography reports on a long-term study of how drug-using offenders tell truth and lies in a US drug court. Mackinem (the paper’s first author) is a member of drug court staff, and the discussion of how he and his co-author negotiated the challenges of ‘participant observation’ is as interesting as the results of their observations.

In the course of a multiyear investigation of three drug courts in a southeastern state, we explored how drug-court staff decides whether clients are telling the truth or lying when the staff confronts them with a positive test for drugs… The drug-court staff’s construction of truths and lies is one occasion of many when staff members create moral identities for their clients and for those applying to be clients

They found that when confronted with a positive result, a third of clients responded with denials (32%), while the other two thirds admitted to using drugs. A variety of excuses were put forward as mitigaiton, with personal stress and the influence of peers being the most common. The authors argue that the way in which drug court staff treat lies by drug-using offenders is bound up with the creation of ‘moral identities’ for the offenders:

The drug-court staff’s judgment as to whether clients are telling the truth or lying when confronted with a positive test for drugs is one occasion of many when the staff creates moral identities for its clients and for those applying to be clients. Are the drug-using offenders morally worthy drug addicts attempting to become sober, or are they unworthy criminals with no willingness to kick their habit? Staffers increasingly make these judgments as they evaluate the potential of drug-using offenders to participate successfully in drug court, as they monitor the progress of drug court clients in the program, and as they assess the performance of clients in deciding whether the clients will graduate or be removed from the program (page 244).

Sage Journals is currently offering open access to all journals, so you can read the article for free until the end of November 2007.

Reference :

Photo credit: Kr4gin, Creative Commons License

Continue reading The Construction of Truth and Lies in Drug Court

A job for a deception researcher

joblessA recently advertised job that might appeal to a reader of the Deception Blog:

Research Associate: Language Use and Deception, Department of Psychology, Lancaster University

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Associate to work on a 21-month project investigating language use and deception. The project seeks to broaden our understanding of verbal indicators of deception by studying the language use of non-student populations over a range of tasks. Its particular focus will be on testing and developing innovative methods of linguistic analysis to capture such verbal indicators.

The closing date is 8 November so you’ll have to hurry!

Photo credit: Khalilshah, Creative Commons License

New deception blog

Stan Walters has started a blog to collate his thoughts on lie detection. Walters is one of those very rare people who actually pays attention to research when talking about deception. His book – The Truth About Lying – is the one I consistently recommend when practitioners ask me for an easy-to-understand book on lying that is based on research rather than the BS that usually included in ‘how to spot liars’ books. Welcome to the blogosphere Stan!

Another job for a deception researcher

If you didn’t want to work for the US DoD at the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment or weren’t qualified to do so, why not consider working on a deception-related research project at the University of Leicester here in the UK? They are looking for a part-time research associate :

Applications are invited to apply for a part time, fixed term research associate position working with Professor Ray Bull on an EPSRC-funded project regarding investigative interviewing to detect deception. This project is part of a programme of six inter-related research projects in five universities which has the title of D-SCENT: Raising challenges to deception attempts using data scent trails.

Applicants should have, or be about to attain, a PhD in an aspect of psychology relevant to investigative interviewing/detection of deception or (ii) have an MSc in forensic psychology plus at least two years post-MSc experience of research.

More details of the job and how to apply on the Leicester Uni website here. The closing date is 21 September so you have a while to get your application in.

Blogs that make me think

thinkingbloggerpf8Scott Henson over at criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast generously nominated the Deception Blog for a ‘Thinking Blogger’ award on 29 July, which left me smiling to myself for the rest of the morning. Thanks Scott!

The Thinking Blogger meme was initiated by ilker yoldas, who set the following rules:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.

3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).

It’s taken me a while to respond because nominating just 5 blogs is really tough – I monitor dozens of RSS feeds and learn from almost all of them. There are fifteen in my ‘must read’ FeedDemon folder alone. But here are five that I’ve been reading for a while, that often make me smile, and consistently post pieces that make me think:

1. Abyss2Hope: Marcella Chester writes about attitudes to rape and prevention of sexual assault. Her “goal has been to help other survivors realize they aren’t alone in their experience, to speak up for those who are too traumatized to speak up for themselves and to advocate for change so there will be fewer new victims in the future and less backlash against the remaining victims”. These are issues I feel strongly about too, and Marcella does great work in reminding us how important prevention of sexual assault is.

2. Deliberations: Anne Reed does a terrific job of taking good legal psychology research, putting it in words that non-psychologists can understand and making practical suggestions about how to apply this research in the court room.

3. The Situationist: Always interesting (apart from the posts on sport, yawn – yeah, I know that’s just me), with some top rate contributors.

4. PsyBlog: Jeremy Dean has made it his mission to provide “an insider’s view of psychology without the journalistic sensationalism. Posts are based on articles in reputable academic journals, but without the academic terminology”. Glorious stuff.

5. Providentia: I love Romeo Vitelli’s take on the quirky history of psychology, strange present-day goings-on and recently published research.

Although these have all at one time or another posted about deception-related issues, they aren’t deception blogs. There are a couple of other deception-related blogs around, but the Anti-Polygraph Blog (a great source of recent stories about the polygraph and other ‘lie detection’ methods) and Eyes for Lies seem to be the only ones that are still updated regularly. But I hope that those of you who come here for deception research news will nevertheless find the blogs I’ve nominated an interesting source of thought-provoking material.

Job opening at the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment

I don’t usually post details of academic jobs here (they go on Psychology and Crime News instead), but here’s one that may be of particular interest to readers of this blog.

The US DoD Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment (DACA) (formerly the Polygraph Institute) is looking for a Supervisory Research Psychologist to work at its HQ in South Carolina. Their advert on the Chronicle of Higher Education webpage (suggesting that they are after someone with a strong academic background) sets out the duties of DACA as follows:

[DACA] is a federally funded institution responsible for graduate and continuing education courses in psychophysiological detection of deception (PDD), providing oversight inspections and technical and policy assistance to all 23 federal polygraph programs, and is the principal facility for the research and development of credibility assessment methods for the Department of Defense.

The successful applicant “will be responsible for the systematic, critical and intensive investigation for the development of a new and fuller scientific knowledge of credibility assessment for the entire federal government”, managing researchers and support personnel and:

determining DACA research operational plans and research needs, allocating approved resources and accounting for their effective use, developing plans for organizational changes, and planning and managing the future of DACA’s research focus. The successful candidate will represent DACA at federal, national, and international level conferences, seminars and meetings and will be able to testify at judicial proceedings and scientific committee meetings as a technical expert on credibility assessment matters.

You have to be a US citizen and the post requires a high level of security clearance.

More details on the Chronicle site and on USA Jobs.

Plants May Not Malinger, But They Do Prevaricate

mirrororchidThis is the charming (though rather misleading) title of a post by law prof Peter Tillers in playful mood, musing on David Livingstone Smith’s article Natural-Born Liars that appeared two years ago in Scientific American Mind. Tillers quotes from Livingstone Smith’s article, which discusses how some plants, such as the stunning mirror orchid, use ‘deception’ as an evolutionary strategy, and comments:

This account of the pervasiveness of lying — or, in any event, of deception — in the organic order is strong enough to warm the cockles of the hearts (and fan the anxieties) of people who believe in Original Sin. Indeed, this scientific account goes beyond the Bible — since this account sees darkness (in the form of deception) in the very fiber (so to speak) of plant life as well as in the hearts (or in the genes, in any event) of human beings and non-human animals.

Later, he adds:

[…] is it better to have lied and lost then never to have lied at all? This is a deep philosophical and moral question that I will address on some other occasion.

We’ll look forward to that discussion Prof Tillers!

Photo credit: Mirror Orchid by Alastair Rae, Creative Commons License

The truth about lying and laughing

truthFrom media darling, psychologist Prof Richard Wiseman, writing in this weekend’s Guardian Magazine (21 April):

[…] A few years ago I carried out a national survey into lying, focusing on adults. Only 8% of respondents claimed never to have lied. Other work has invited people to keep a detailed diary of every conversation that they have, and of all of the lies that they tell, over a two-week period. The results suggest that most people tell about two important lies each day, that a third of conversations involve some form of deception, that four in five lies remain undetected, that more than 80% of people have lied to secure a job, and that more than 60% of the population have cheated on their partners at least once.

[…Can we catch liars?] Psychologists have been exploring this question for 30 years. The research has studied the lying behaviour of salespeople, shoppers, students, drug addicts and criminals. Some of my own work in this area has involved showing people video tapes of instances in which people have made high-profile public appeals for information about a murder, only later to confess and be convicted of the crime themselves.

The results have been remarkably consistent – when it comes to lie detection, the public might as well simply toss a coin. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, young or old; very few people are able reliably to detect deception.

Photo credit: jasoneppink, Creative Commons License

Do ‘Truth Serums’ Work?

truthserumOn NPR today (11 April), a segment on “the truth behind truth serums”:

Lawyers of alleged al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla have argued that he should not be tried because of questionable interrogation techniques used on him, including the use of truth serums.

Alex Chadwick talks with Dr. Ronald Miller, chair of the anesthesia and perioperative care department at the University of California San Francisco, about the truth behind truth serums.

You can listen to the segment via this link.

Photo credit: misocrazy, Creative Commons License

The history of US Government use of Truth Serums

Lawyers for terror suspect Jose Padilla allege that whilst he was in US government custody he was subjected to “hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution and the administration of ‘truth serums’. ” (New York Times, 22 Feb). Jeff Stein at Congressional Quarterly (23 Feb) asked the Pentagon, CIA, Navy and FBI about the use of truth serums:

The government refuses to say what is almost certainly true: that interrogators did not, in fact, use any kind of so-called “truth serum” on Padilla.

Although a spokesman for the Defense Secretary, the Navy and the CIA would not comment on the record, “the FBI did not hesitate to answer the question”:

“The FBI would neither use, condone nor be partner to the use of any such tactic,” public affairs unit chief Rich Kolko responded within minutes of an e-mailed inquiry. Indeed, the FBI had objected to the harsh methods that CIA and Defense Department interrogators were using on Padilla and other detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

The irony of the government’s silence on truth serums — to me anyway — is that nobody I talked to outside of Padilla’s camp believes U.S. interrogators employed drugs to loosen his tongue. […] Why? The first reason is that the drugs normally associated with the term “truth serum” aren’t likely to work.

In the rest of the article, Stein discusses the chequered and murky history of government use of truth serums.

Hat tip to the Anti-Polygraph Blog for the link.

How people cope with uncertainty due to chance or deception

In making social judgments people process effects caused by humans differently from effects caused by non-human agencies. We assume that when they have to predict outcomes that are attributed to non-human causes, people acknowledge their ignorance and try to focus on what is most diagnostic. However, when events are attributed to human agency, they believe that nothing is arbitrary and that one can understand the decision situation well enough to eliminate error. If so, then people should behave differently when an uncertainty is attributed to chance (a non-human agency) or to deception (a human agency). We tested this prediction using the probability-matching paradigm and found reasonable support for our analysis in four experiments. Individuals who attributed uncertainty to deception were less likely to adopt the optimal rule-based strategy than those who attributed it to chance. Indeed, only when the former were prevented from thinking about and elaborating the outcomes (the high-interference condition in Experiment 3) was their performance comparable to the level of individuals in the chance condition.


“Paltering” – intentional deception that stops short of an outright lie

Frederick Schauer and Richard J Zeckhauser from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government have published a paper over at SSRN on “paltering”, another term for ‘not quite’ lying. From the abstract:

A lie involves three elements: deceptive intent, an inaccurate message, and a harmful effect. When only one or two of these elements is present we do not call the activity lying, even when the practice is no less morally questionable or socially detrimental. This essay explores this area of “less-than-lying,” in particular intentionally deceptive practices such as fudging, twisting, shading, bending, stretching, slanting, exaggerating, distorting, whitewashing, and selective reporting. Such deceptive practices are occasionally called “paltering,” which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as acting insincerely or misleadingly.

The analysis assesses the motivations for, effective modes of, and possible remedies against paltering. It considers the strategic interaction between those who palter and those who interpret messages, with both sides adjusting their strategies to account for the general frequency of misleading messages. The moral standing of paltering is discussed. So too are reputational mechanisms – such as gossip – that might discourage its use.

Paltering frequently produces consequences as harmful to others as lying. But while lying has been studied throughout the ages, with penalties prescribed by authorities ranging from parents to philosophers, paltering – despite being widespread – has received little systematic study, and penalties for it even less. Given the subtleties of paltering, it is often difficult to detect or troubling to punish, implying that it is also hard to deter. This suggests that when harmful paltering is established, the sanctions against it should be at least as stiff as those against lying.

The full paper can be downloaded for free via the link below. Hat tip to Neuroethics & Law Blog.


  • Schauer, Frederick and Zeckhauser, Richard J. (2007). Paltering. KSG Working Paper No. RWP07-006 Available at SSRN.

In Memoriam: David Lykken (1928-2006)

Tributes to David Lyyken in the January 2007 issue of the Association for Psychological Science’s Observer (Volume 20, Number 1), from William G. Iacono, Scott O. Lilienfeld, John Furedy, Don Fowles, Thomas J. Bouchard Jr., Gershon Ben Shakar and Richard J. Rose. Whilst readers of this blog may know Lykken best for his work on polygraphy, these tributes highlight his contributions to many other important areas of psychological research.

Hat tip to the Anti-Polygraph Blog!