We are all capable of deceit and of lying, that is without question, but the reason for the lie could be just as important as the lie itself, especially when it comes to discovering the lie. Dr. Ekman states that most people lie when there is something to be gained. That could be financial gain, to prevent punishment, to protect others or even as social lubricants to allow social occasions to be more fluid.
Deceit that is for the protection of others will often be associated with feelings of guilt at the deceit being carried out, but there will be little of shame. Shame would be apparent when we think of how others view our actions. But what about when we deceive for personal gain? The confidence trickster against the mark?
We have a number of issues when we are trying to pin down the deceiver. When you are looking at personal gain by someone practised at deceiving for gain, very little guilt may be apparent. They have been able to squash all sign of the subtle sadness from their face, or they have internally justified what they have done so that guilt is no longer felt. If the possible gains out-weigh the guilt associated with the action in the mind of the deceiver guilt is less likely to show. Guilt outweighing the gains and it is likely that the act would not have been done at all. The sweet spot is when guilt and gain are very close to balanced. The inner turmoil that will keep resurfacing is likely to become quite clear.
Confidence tricksters have usually become very good at what they do. Think of the professional poker player, they are themselves in a way a confidence trickster. They bluff and deceive to try to cause you into giving up the game. Practice makes perfect, and in the case of confidence tricksters of all types this is true. As they become more successful at what they do, then their risk of discovery starts to decline. Risk is, as Dr. Ekman says, one of the biggest factors in being able to detect deceptive behaviour.
There are flaws in practised deception though, and one of those is the inability to account for all possible outcomes. Throw in something unexpected. Suddenly cognitive load has to increase as they go through the mental gymnastics of trying to work their way around the complication. As soon as the brain is engaged the emotions can slip out. Interviewing and interrogation uses some of these techniques to constantly keep the target of the questioning from settling in a comfort zone. There are elements of the words used and the story told that can also give away signs of the story being constructed as opposed to being remembered, but that deserves a post of its own, or possible a number of posts.
The things to remember about constructed lies is they tend to follow a linear pattern. They have a start, a middle and an end. They follow a chronological telling because that is how they were constructed. This is one of the reasons that random questioning can sometimes be successful. It removes the opportunity for linear stories. Changing you questions to different parts of the story can be very useful. This was shown to a degree in the show “Lie to Me”, when a suspect was asked to reconstruct events in reverse order. Pick something from the middle of the story and ask them what happened before that.
There is an old adage that states “to be a good liar you must have a good memory”. This is certainly true. I would also say you have to be able to think laterally too.
People’s success at lying is not just dependent on the quality of the lie and the liar, but also the bias of the target of the lie. Human nature means that most of us tend to have a truth bias, this is strengthened with people we respect and know. There are certain professions of course that require a different bias, such as criminal investigators. We don’t like to think that we have been lied to and sometimes this can be one of the biggest issues. In a relationship it is usually the deceived partner who is last to know of the deceit; not because the signs weren’t there, but because they have been subconsciously ignored. We are self deceivers, we lie to ourselves all the time and indeed each other. Those social lubricants. “How are you?” “oh, I am fine!”
A lie is organic. It grows and develops and eventually, without care, it can get out of control. Lies are like scaffolding. They rely on the strength of the other lies around them, and like chains, they are only as good as the weakest link.