Trusting people make better lie detectors

Trusting others may not make you a fool or a Pollyanna, according to a study in the current Social Psychological and Personality Science. Instead it can be a sign that you're smart.

Researchers asked study participants to watch taped job interviews of 2nd year MBA students. Interviewees were all told to do their best to get the job. Half of the interviewees were completely truthful; the other half told at least three significant lies to appear more attractive for the job. All interviewees were guaranteed $20 for making the tape, and both the liars and truth-tellers hoped to receive an additional $20 if a supposed "lie detection expert" watched the tape and believed they were telling the truth.

Several days before the participants watched the tapes, they filled out a questionnaire that measured their trust in other people, with questions such as "Most people are basically honest," and "Most people are basically good-natured and kind." They then watched the videos, and rated the truthfulness and honesty of the interviewees.

People high in trust were more accurate at detecting the liars—the more people showed trust in others, the more able they were to distinguish a lie from the truth. The more faith in their fellow humans they had, the more they wanted to hire the honest interviewees and to avoid the lying ones. Contrary to the stereotype, people who were low in trust were more willing to hire liars and they were also less likely to be aware that they were liars.

"Although people seem to believe that low trusters are better lie detectors and less gullible than high trusters, these results suggest that the reverse is true," write co-authors Nancy Carter and Mark Weber of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. "High trusters were better lie detectors than were low trusters; they also formed more appropriate impressions and hiring intentions.

"People who others are not pie-in-the-sky Pollyannas, their interpersonal accuracy may make them particularly good at hiring, recruitment, and identifying good friends and worthy business partners."

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Aug 13, 2010
The article implies that greater trust in others causes better lie detection. A more plausible scenario is that a better lie detector coincidentally makes a more trusting person.

Because good lie detectors can recognize deceit, and deceit is rare, they know that most people are trustworthy. Bad lie detectors can't tell when people are lying and must assume that most people are liars to avoid getting conned by the rare deceiver.

If you aren't a good lie detector, don't assume that trusting others will improve your ability to recognize deceit.

Aug 13, 2010
I agree with Cantwell. Those that can recognize lies and avoid them, will probably be more trusting than those who can't spot lies before they get burned by them.

Aug 13, 2010
All we've got is evidence of a correlation, the data doesn't show any sort of causation, one way or the other, despite the way this article is written. There could very easily be an underlying trait which is the cause of both a trusting nature and the ability to detect lies well. Those without a well-developed sense of empathy, in other words, borderline sociopaths, for example, may well be both less trusting of others, and less able to detect a lie.

Aug 13, 2010
Well, data is evidence of correlation. But the causation arrow described by Cantwell's comment specifies a more plausible scenario: good lie detectors can recognize deceit. Those that can recognize lies and avoid them, will probably be more trusting than those who can't spot lies before they get burned by them.

Aug 13, 2010
people without proper socialization skills and borderline sociopaths would person worse at detecting lies

Aug 14, 2010
@cantwell: The whole test was double blinded by both sides, so it's not a scenario, it's there. The confusion is the Pollyanna who believes people are always nice. That's just plain dumb and why the character really is naive.

Reread the questions to determine the quality 'trust', the questions are vague on purpose because maybe it's truly not black and white. It will catch the truly perceptive people and the Pollyannas. The Pollyannas will be probably random or just hire everyone because they're just plain dumb.

However, if people really are generally trustworthy and nice all the perceptive person needs to do is find the odd man out as it were.

Aug 16, 2010
I recall this FBI methodology for detecting lies and manipulating people into telling the truth. Someone like Derren Brown could easily detect lies and say people people are basically honest. I would say he's right, but I never him comment on politicians yet.

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