Notes from the Perimeter

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How to Tell When a Politician is Lying

 "How can you tell when a politician is lying? When his (or her) lips move."  That's a tired old chestnut, but the truth is, whether assessing a candidate or a loved one you fear is cheating, human beings are pretty lousy at detecting deception.
Politicians can be especially tricky to catch out since most of them have had so much practice.  Between spin doctors, speech writers, media consultants, pr managers, sycophants and their own often monumental egos, those who would dine at the public trough are trained to stay on message and exude confidence, sincerity and trustworthiness.  Perhaps more importantly, they develop a keen sense of what we, the citizenry, want to hear: we warm to positive messages and flinch from painful truths.  And because so many of us are woefully ignorant about the details of the issues, we like sheep are easily led. 
The best defense against a lie is knowledge.  If your paramour insists that he was watching the Sunday game with his buds but you happened to catch a glimpse of him in the lobby of the boutique hotel where you'd had brunch, well, there you go, both metaphorically and probably literally.  But apart from firsthand knowledge (or other reliable evidence) are there verbal and nonverbal clues that can give a liar away?
Lying is harder than telling the truth. Lying is stressful.  To be an effective liar requires that one rehearse and memorize detail rather than rely on memory.  Because of the anxiety associated with lying and the perceived sense of the importance of the lie, the liar often will give him- or herself away.  This is especially true of politicians since their lives can be exhaustingly busy and lies require energy and constant attention. 
Experts tend to agree that none of the standard indicators is completely fool - or politician - proof.  Some people are simply really good at lying.  Many signs, such as the fleeting facial tics known as "micro-expressions," are extremely difficult for a lay person to distinguish.  When applying these clues to detect lies and liars, it's good policy to temper hubris with modesty: understand that you might get it wrong. But careful use of them might help you get it right.
1. Notice eye contact.
It's a myth that liars won't or can't make eye contact.  However, look for unnatural eye contact: either the person is unable to maintain contact or s/he fixes you (or the camera) with a strained and aggressive stare. 
2.  Read body language.
Pay attention to such indicators as crossed arms or legs, slouching, or tilting the head away: these can indicate the discomfort that accompanies lying.
3.  Follow the eyes.
Many researchers posit that when the eyes look up and to the right (his or hers, not yours) this suggests that the part of the brain linked to the imagination is being triggered.  Conversely, the eyes looking down and to the left might indicate the part of the brain linked to memory.
4.  Shake out the hands.
Often liars' hands will speak eloquently of deception.  Watch for clenched fists, covering the mouth or part of the face, rubbing the eyes, scratching on or behind the ear.
5.  Pay attention to detail.
The person who offers too much detail, especially unasked, might be lying.  Because the narrative of the lie is fabricated, the liar can often be tripped up by inconsistencies in the story, especially if the same questions are asked after some time has passed.
Politicans' lips move and it's not always lies that emanate.  To truly become a lie detector, you need to arm yourself with knowledge, information and intuition.  But if you do notice someone's pants on fireā€¦.

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