We Are Being Lied To? By Whom?

File under: Counterintuitive.  From ScienceDaily:

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 job interview 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.

Admittedly I have a bit of a hard time getting my head around this, but we’ll leave what that says about me aside.  Assuming the results are borne out (and if you dismiss them out of hand, ask yourself why), here are my five hypothetical explanations:

  1. People who are raised in dysfunctional families frequently don’t learn how to recognize truth.
  2. Distrustful people tend to be more dishonest themselves, and psychologically project it out onto the rest of the human race.
  3. Those who are naive naturally seek out other naive people.
  4. Those who are bad at judging honesty will be exposed to more dishonest people, and thus become distrustful through experience.
  5. That’s what “They” want us to believe!  (Or is that what I want to believe?)

Here’s the rub.  If these results prove true, don’t they indicate that if you distrust a certain group, you should be more wary of those who say what you want to hear?  For instance, if you distrust big business, perhaps you should be less so, and more skeptical of government.  Or if you distrust Marxists, perhaps you should be less so, and more skeptical of Capitalists.  Or if you are distrusting of religion, perhaps you should be less so, and more skeptical of science.  And, for all these, vice versa.

Or does that make us even more distrusting, and thus even more likely to believe lies?  There’s the rub.

Read more here.

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  • ET

    So what does that imply about skeptics (e.g. The Amazing Randi, Shermer, and Pen and Teller)?

    • Word Eater

      Not much. Research can always trump instant judgment calls.

      All it says is that skeptics are more likely to see a lie where there is a truth. But skeptics are also more likely to go find out for sure.

      • ET

        I asked the question to get people to think through the consequences of particular interpretations of the research (and to thinking of one study as saying much of anything — like small studies about food supplements that go back and forth). That aside… one possibility is that skeptics are more likely to think people are basically good, and tend to trust others, contrary to the general public’s perceptions.

        • ET

          Of course, skeptics also compare what is said against science, experiments, etc…. so new studies would be called for to make any claims about how skeptics view people.

        • ET

          Also, the study is about “given that someone is lying, here is what the viewers thought, and how what they thought is correlated with their beliefs about humanity in general”, not the other way around: “given the viewer’s thoughts about humanity and what they thought, here is how it correlates with whether an interviewee is lying or not”.

          However, Bayesian stats can be used to connect these two correlations (you can turn around the probability of A given B to the probability of B given A).

        • One

          Exactly. I think most or the majority of skeptics are very naive and that they go into questioning certain subjects with the bias notion that “people will never go out their way to hurt another for no reason”. For example, Pen and Teller actually think GMOs are harmless and that it will help the starved, even though it does the opposite. Most skeptics are just as critical as the common fool..

          • Andrew

            Also, most people are only skeptical of thoughts that don’t fit their own bias.

      • Andrew

        I don’t see how you came by that interpretation. It seems to me to pretty clearly imply the opposite, that skeptics are more likely to see truth where there is a lie.

    • Haystack

      Randi, Pen and Teller are magicians; they’re skeptics in large part because they are trained in how to deceive people, and recognize the same tricks being used in other contexts (e.g., faith healers). The salient factor for skeptics more training than trust, so I’m not sure how relevant this study would be.

      • ET

        I personally thought the study said little if anything about skeptics. BUT, some people DEFINE `skeptic’ as something like, “people who are naturally distrustful of others”; and with that interpretation, one can see the study as SUGGESTING something about skeptics (well, you would have to look at the original numbers in the study to see the correlation between this one question in the survey and ability to detect lies).

        Other people DEFINE skeptic as someone who weighs evidence, and takes nothing on faith (subject to an appropriate definition of `faith’); and to those people the study says little at all. Unless… they misread it!

        Still others DEFINE skeptic as someone who “ferrets out lies, and is good at it”; again, the study says nothing, because not all people who are good at picking out lies actively seek to ferret them out (so these sorts of skeptics are a sub-population of the people who are good at detecting lies). Unless… they misread it!

        Still others DEFINE skeptic as someone who “applies science and experiments, etc. to test statements of fact”; again, the study says nothing.

        Still others ASSUME skeptics trust certain others (e.g. mainstream media, scientific institutions); and again, the study says nothing. Unless… they misread it! (which is not to say it isn’t true!) — the point being that not everyone who “trusts the MSM and government e.g.” is a skeptic, and not everyone who trusts humanity in general trusts people in the MSM and government.

        And there are many other definitions and assumptions besides…

        Different people will read whatever they want into it. And its easy to persuade people (e.g. as politicians do) that the study says what you want it to say. Hence the oft-stated phrase “lying with statistics”.

        And you’re right… this is Disinfo.org after all!

  • ET

    So what does that imply about skeptics (e.g. The Amazing Randi, Shermer, and Pen and Teller)?

  • gemmarama

    what if you distrust big business, governments, marxists, capitalists, religion AND science?

    for the record i think hypothetical explanations 1) and 2) are on the money.

  • gemmarama

    what if you distrust big business, governments, marxists, capitalists, religion AND science?

    for the record i think hypothetical explanations 1) and 2) are on the money.

  • Word Eater

    Not much. Research can always trump instant judgment calls.

    All it says is that skeptics are more likely to see a lie where there is a truth. But skeptics are also more likely to go find out for sure.

  • ET

    I asked the question to get people to think through the consequences of particular interpretations of the research (and to thinking of one study as saying much of anything — like small studies about food supplements that go back and forth). That aside… one possibility is that skeptics are more likely to think people are basically good, and tend to trust others, contrary to the general public’s perceptions.

  • Andrew

    I don’t see how you came by that interpretation. It seems to me to pretty clearly imply the opposite, that skeptics are more likely to see truth where there is a lie.

  • ET

    Of course, skeptics also compare what is said against science, experiments, etc…. so new studies would be called for to make any claims about how skeptics view people.

  • ET

    Also, the study is about “given that someone is lying, here is what the viewers thought, and how what they thought is correlated with their beliefs about humanity in general”, not the other way around: “given the viewer’s thoughts about humanity and what they thought, here is how it correlates with whether an interviewee is lying or not”.

    However, Bayesian stats can be used to connect these two correlations (you can turn around the probability of A given B to the probability of B given A).

  • GoodDoktorBad

    Trusting people gives you more opportuntites to learn human nature. You get screwed over and you learn to spot liars better. Alot of truth tellers used to lie and learned the futility of it and the motivations for lying.

    Experience tends to make people smarter. Total skeptics never learn because they don’t take chances.
    Skeptics don’t even tend to believe in honest mistakes, they just condemn by default.

    • Synapse

      Also an influence: A distrustful person is not as surprised/bothered by your lies because he expected it and didn’t really care that you lied. The trustful person was hurt by the lie and disliked you more for it. I think this is what’s likely at work.

      • GoodDoktorBad

        I see what you mean. However, I have met compulsive liars who were very hypocritical about other people lying to them. Perhaps its an over-compensation for there own lying nature. A way to transfer blame and responsibilty from themselves.

    • Haystack

      “Skeptics don’t even tend to believe in honest mistakes, they just condemn by default.”

      It’s kind of odd that this one should get turned around on skeptics, even as the article is illustrated with Disinfo’s “You Are Still Being Lied To” graphic. Need I remind everyone that this site is dedicated largely to conspiracy theory?

  • Anonymous

    Trusting people gives you more opportuntites to learn human nature. You get screwed over and you learn to spot liars better. Alot of truth tellers used to lie and learned the futility of it and the motivations for lying.

    Experience tends to make people smarter. Total skeptics never learn because they don’t take chances.
    Skeptics don’t even tend to believe in honest mistakes, they just condemn by default.

  • Synapse

    Also an influence: A distrustful person is not as surprised/bothered by your lies because he expected it and didn’t really care that you lied. The trustful person was hurt by the lie and disliked you more for it. I think this is what’s likely at work.

  • Anonymous

    I see what you mean. However, I have met compulsive liars who were very hypocritical about other people lying to them. Perhaps its an over-compensation for there own lying nature. A way to transfer blame and responsibilty from themselves.

  • One

    Exactly. I think most or the majority of skeptics are very naive and that they go into questioning certain subjects with the bias notion that “people will never go out their way to hurt another for no reason”. For example, Pen and Teller actually think GMOs are harmless and that it will help the starved, even though it does the opposite. Most skeptics are just as critical as the common fool..

  • Andrew

    Also, most people are only skeptical of thoughts that don’t fit their own bias.

  • Haystack

    Randi, Pen and Teller are magicians; they’re skeptics in large part because they are trained in how to deceive people, and recognize the same tricks being used in other contexts (e.g., faith healers). The salient factor for skeptics more training than trust, so I’m not sure how relevant this study would be.

  • Haystack

    “Skeptics don’t even tend to believe in honest mistakes, they just condemn by default.”

    It’s kind of odd that this one should get turned around on skeptics, even as the article is illustrated with Disinfo’s “You Are Still Being Lied To” graphic. Need I remind everyone that this site is dedicated largely to conspiracy theory?

  • ET

    I personally thought the study said little if anything about skeptics. BUT, some people DEFINE `skeptic’ as something like, “people who are naturally distrustful of others”; and with that interpretation, one can see the study as SUGGESTING something about skeptics (well, you would have to look at the original numbers in the study to see the correlation between this one question in the survey and ability to detect lies).

    Other people DEFINE skeptic as someone who weighs evidence, and takes nothing on faith (subject to an appropriate definition of `faith’); and to those people the study says little at all. Unless… they misread it!

    Still others DEFINE skeptic as someone who “ferrets out lies, and is good at it”; again, the study says nothing, because not all people who are good at picking out lies actively seek to ferret them out (so these sorts of skeptics are a sub-population of the people who are good at detecting lies). Unless… they misread it!

    Still others DEFINE skeptic as someone who “applies science and experiments, etc. to test statements of fact”; again, the study says nothing.

    Still others ASSUME skeptics trust certain others (e.g. mainstream media, scientific institutions); and again, the study says nothing. Unless… they misread it! (which is not to say it isn’t true!) — the point being that not everyone who “trusts the MSM and government e.g.” is a skeptic, and not everyone who trusts humanity in general trusts people in the MSM and government.

    And there are many other definitions and assumptions besides…

    Different people will read whatever they want into it. And its easy to persuade people (e.g. as politicians do) that the study says what you want it to say. Hence the oft-stated phrase “lying with statistics”.

    And you’re right… this is Disinfo.org after all!

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