Would you like to know how to spot a lie? A recent meta-study of 60 independent research studies on deception by Dr. R. Edward Geiselman and his team have uncovered a classic set of behaviors that indicate a pattern of deception.
Dr. Geiselman has a Masters degree in Experimental Psychology from Ohio University, and a Ph.D. degree in Experimental Psychology from Ohio University in 1976. He has been a member of the core faculty at UCLA for almost 30 years.
He is one of the world’s foremost experts on how to spot a lie.
Lying takes heavy cognitive work. There are specific tasks in constructing a lie:
As is often the case in social science, what we discover through careful research frequently contradicts popular belief. Geiselman and his team are hard-core lie detectors. The team regularly engages in ongoing applied research, teaching lie-detecting interview techniques to police, military, and intelligence officers. Here are a just a few of Dr. Geiselman’s findings:
Deceptive people are already under a heavy cognitive load because they have to maintain the consistency of their story over time. They also have to monitor the person who is interviewing them to see if they’re buying the story or they have to adjust the story to make it more believable. The reverse-order technique adds to that heavy cognitive load, increasing the likelihood of the telltale signs of deception. We use the reverse-order technique near the end of the interview when we think we’ve got about as much information as we’re going to get from their story and our follow-up questions.We’ll say something like, “Thank you very much for what you’ve told me. It’s been very helpful, but now I’d like you to try just one more thing to see if you can remember anything further.
I’d like you to start at the very end of the story as you’ve told it and go backward in time, being as detailed as you can.” Deceptive people have a great deal of trouble doing that. Some truthful people do as well, but deceptive people really have a tough time doing it, and the basic indicators of deception start showing up. R. Edward Geiselman
Geiselman warns that it’s a myth that we can have a reliable “gut reaction” to detecting a lie. Your actual ability to detect a lie is not at all related to your “gut” reaction. This is another popular myth that has been dismissed by research. It’s not that you don’t have a “gut” reaction. You do. But this reaction is far less predictive of your ability to spot a lie than you may believe. On the other hand, Dr. Geiselman warns that if you tend to hyper-focus and over-analyze, you might do worse than just going with your gut reaction.
Needless to say, competent couples therapists, by definition, must be skilled in working with lies and deception. They pursue training in neuro-science and understand how to confront and intervene. Lies show up in marriages in a number of ways, such as couples struggling to recover from infidelity. Couples therapists benefit from taking micro-expression training and reviewing applied social science research. These efforts can help improve your ability to know how to spot a lie.
But to understand how to intervene is another matter altogether. This is where your therapeutic orientation shows up. Truth detection, like couples therapy, is an emerging social science.
It’s important for a couples therapist to determine what sort of lies and deception are involved in a marital betrayal. Dr. Ellyn Bader, in her Developmental Model of couples therapy, describes four main categories of lies that may occur in marriages: Loving Lies, Conflict-Avoiding Lies, Passive-Aggressive Lies, and the Big Fat Felony Lies.
Dr. Bader reminds us that although deception is a barrier to intimacy, everyone rationalizes a need to deceive at one point or another. Dr. Bader also coined the controversial notion of the Liar-Invitee, and wrote a book on patterns of marital deception. I will be addressing some of these concepts in an upcoming post.
Dr. Geiselman’s study was published in The American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry (Geiselman et al., 2011).
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.