The Truth About Lying


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By Monica Semrad, Helen Paterson and Carolyn MacCann

From the September 2015 issue of the APJ.

The ability to detect lies and tell lies is a critical addition to the arsenal of tools police have against the criminal element. Whether performing roles in Witness Protection, Child Protection, Counter Terrorism, front line uniform policing, or undercover roles to integrate with criminal syndicates, our ability to be a convincing liar or detect lies in others is vital in the policing world. Yet police have been shown to overestimate their skills in lie detection and underestimate their skills in lying1.

Whether the ability to lie or detect lies is a trained skill or an innate talent is undetermined, but at this stage law enforcement groups neither use selection tests designed to identify these abilities, nor provide adequate training to best utilise these abilities. This could explain why police, although referred to as professional lie detectors, have less than ideal results when assessed in their ability to detect deception2.

Research has repeatedly shown that people in the general population perform little better than chance when it comes to detecting deception3,4. In a US-based study testing specialist populations (the Secret Service, CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, DEA, California police and judges, psychiatrists, and college students) only one group performed better than chance with an average score of 64.12% ? the Secret Service. Interestingly a number of members of the Secret Service scored 80% or higher in accuracy, but those that did were less than 40 years of age5. These findings, and many like them, lead researchers to investigate deception detection in an effort to determine what deception is, how it is detected, why it is detected and when is it most easily detected.

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