Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Detecting liars is not a skill

One of the most popular pieces of folk wisdom is that some people are better at detecting liars than others. When it comes to selection, some people think they can tell when a candidate is lying about their history or competencies. And if the organization is conducting background checks and/or a polygraph, it becomes particularly important to detect deceptions.

Yet according to a new meta-analysis published in the most recent issue of Psychological Bulletin, we may all be pretty much the same when it comes to lie detection. In the words of the authors:

"Although researchers have suggested that people differ in the ability to detect lies, psychometric analyses of 247 samples reveal that these ability differences are minute."

Where there do appear to be differences is in being able to successfully tell a lie--some people are plain better at it than others.

The article is followed by two commentaries that are critical of this study and a reply by the author.

What about people's overall ability to detect a lie? Check out this study from 2006 by the same authors. Short answer: we're not very good.

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