Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Truth About Lying

By Stephen Luntz

Reality TV shows and YouTube videos are providing insights into lying and arguing.

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After completing a degree at the Australian National University, Edward Reynolds spent some time assessing people for security clearances. “In the training courses they trotted out tired, old psychological theories about lying I knew from my undergraduate degree were bunkum,” Reynolds says.

Despite this, the courses contained some useful tips. “For example, if you suspect someone has not answered a question properly simply don’t respond,” says Reynolds. “Eventually they will continue and answer the question.”

Reynolds was puzzled by the combination of useful practical advice apparently based on discredited theory. He chose to go back to ANU to complete a Masters in Linguistics on lying.

Rather than using laboratory studies, with all the artificiality and expense involved, Reynolds turned to TV programs Cops and The Jeremy Kyle Show to seek examples of people who were subsequently revealed to be lying. He found these people did indeed show many of the traits said to be associated with lying, such as pauses while answering questions.

However, truth-tellers showed the same traits when under pressure. He found these so-called cues to deception were simply not reliable indicators.

The Jeremy Kyle Show is a UK offshoot of Jerry Springer in which guests are pushed to air their personal secrets. Often they lie, for example about having had...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.