Liar, liar, pants on fire

 
 

Think you’re hard to fool? Try pulling one over a baby, says Caitriona Smith

 Barefaced lies, white lies, honest lies, half-truths, bluffs, untruths, fabrications, whoppers and just plain bull crap. No matter what way you try to spin it, that email you sent to your lecturer last night explaining how you need an extension on your paper because for whatever excuse you drummed up is such a breath-taking work of fiction you probably think you deserve the A+ for it alone.

What happens when the lecturer morphs into an 18-month-old baby with the deception detecting abilities of Tim Roth in Lie To Me, though? Not even your tallest tale is going to fool those big-eyed babes; they can see into your very soul, or so a recent study done by two psychology researchers at the Concordia University seems to indicate.The study found that babies as young as 18 months of age could tell when an adult was being false. The experiment, conducted by Sabrina Chiarella and Diane Poulin, enlisted 92 proud nappy-wearers between 15 and 18-months-old. Two actors were used to convey positive or negative emotions after a positive or negative experience.

One actor had to act happy when presented with a toy and act sad when they hurt their finger using facial expressions. The other actor had to mismatch these emotions by acting happy when they hurt their finger and acting sad when handed their toy. The babies were found to be very observant and had strong responses to the actors’ emotions.

The research found that the 15-month-olds reacted strongest to the actor who mismatched their emotions. This indicates that the 15-month-old uglies haven’t yet made the connection between events and their corresponding appropriate emotional response.

You can’t trick the 18-month-olds quite that easily, though. The older babies were first presented with the ‘goodie’ actor who laughed and cried in all the appropriate places. The babies responded to the positive facial expressions in an equally positive manner and to the negative facial expressions by showing concern and empathy. When they were presented with the actor who was lying, the 18-month-olds displayed what the researchers called checking behaviour.

When confronted with mismatched emotional responses, the 18-month-olds spent more time studying the face of the actor that was lying than the 15-month-olds did. They also frequently looked at their caregiver or at the truthful actor’s face, people they see as upstanding citizens, as if to gauge their response to these obvious falsehoods.

Why is it that we, as fully mature and developed adults (optimistically speaking), can’t tell our lies from our porky pies? We learn to deceive from an extremely young age; baby’s fake-cry for attention all the time and studies show that by 8-months-old they can actively attempt to conceal forbidden activities from their parents. When it comes to telling the difference between the truth and untruth however, we suck.

There are both physical and emotional reasons why we don’t see the wood from the trees. Jumping back to Tim Roth in Lie to Me, there is scientific proof that our faces sell out our lying ways in telltale signs called micro-expressions.

These micro-expressions, however, which give a glimpse at genuine emotion, are so fast they are impossible for the human eye to register, and so hints at our deep, dark secrets go unnoticed. Also, the non-verbal cues or micro-expressions that we all look for when attempting to detect deception, such as rapid blinking or fidgeting, are based on statistical averages, not absolute patterns.

For example, some people fart when they lie, but not every farter is a liar and not every liar is a farter. Liars don’t break eye contact when lying, people telling the truth are just as likely to look away as people spinning webs of lies.

Maybe ignorance really is bliss. Think about it. You don’t want to be able to tell that your boyfriend is lying to you when he says your ass doesn’t look big in those jeans, or when your parents say you’re not a disappointment.

Our minds are not pre-ordained to follow the scientific method, where an idea is formed that we then attempt to disprove. Our brains are constantly forming ideas about things and then constantly searching for information that supports and confirms these ideas, not disproves them.

So when we squeeze our collective butts into those jeans that we know are too small for, but are going to wear anyway and turn to our bemused friends and they confirm the excellencey of our posterior with an obvious sarcastic tone, we now know that we choose not to hear it. We have developed to smile safe in the knowledge that we’ve been able to detect liars since we were babies.

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