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Being Good at Recognizing Liars May Allow Us to be Trusting

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Researchers asked the participants in a study to watch taped job interviews of second year MBA students. 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.

The interviewees were required to try their best to get the job, and were paid $20 for making the job interview tape, and both the liars and truth-tellers had the chance of an additional $20 if a supposed lie detection expert watched the tape and believed they were telling the truth. Half of the interviewees were completely truthful, the other half told at least three significant lies to appear more attractive for the job.

Highly trusting people 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 they trusted their fellow humans, the more they wanted to hire the honest interviewees and to avoid the lying ones. Contrary to the stereotype, untrusting people were more ready to hire liars and less likely to realize they were liars. Co-authors, Nancy Carter and Mark Weber of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, wrote:

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. High trusters were better lie detectors than were low trusters. They also formed more appropriate impressions and hiring intentions. People who trust 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.

One needs to be clear about what is cause and what is effect. Rather than being trusting somehow making people better at recognizing liars, trusting people more trusting because they are better able to see through the smaller proportion of liars. Because they know most people are trustworthy, they are trusting people. Untrusting people have to be untrusting to compensate for their inability to see through habitual liars. So deciding to be more trusting will not give you some mysterious ability to recognize liars, but, if you are trusting, it may be that you can do it already, and so have confidence in who you sense you can trust. You are smart.


Written by mikemagee

14 August, 2010 at 9:58 pm

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