The tactic to know if someone is lying to you with 80% reliability

A study confirms that what we say matters more than how we say it: if we don't let ourselves be carried away by intuition and we analyze the content, we will get clues that will allow us to know that what we are told is false.

How many deceptions and problems could we avoid if we knew how to easily identify that someone is lying to us. There are many to know if a person is hiding part of the truth or not telling the truth at all: non-verbal language, direct eye contact, sweaty hands… but few of them promise a more or less reliable effectiveness.

A new study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, has shown that all you need to do is pay attention to one detail: the what, when, who, how and why of what you are being told, i.e. the five big questions to get a basic, general and deep idea of a fact or subject. The 5W (QQOQCCP)as they are called in journalism. If you can get a direct and convincing answer to these four questions, you will be able to distinguish lies from truth 80% of the time.

“People can't evaluate all the signals in such a short time, much less integrate them into an accurate and truthful judgment.”

It is not so much a matter of paying attention to the unconscious signals the person is giving (unless they are too obvious), but of being firm enough to ask the right questions. When we lie, we don't tend to integrate the information we offer as we go along, so it's quite possible that we've left out some details that, if the recipient is attentive, can be teased out to discover the truth of what we're saying.

Prejudices count

“It's an almost impossible task,” admits Bruno Verschuere, psychologist and lead author of the study, as reported by Science Alert. “Normally, people cannot evaluate all these signals in such a short time, let alone integrate them into an accurate and truthful judgment.” On the other hand, there is an additional difficulty in distinguishing truth from falsehood, which is that we have many stereotypes about the liar because of all the deceptions we have experienced in our lives. If you've ever seen someone act a certain way and then found out they were lying to you, you probably tend to think that all liars act like them, so you'll see signs that don't match reality.

It is better to use one method of detecting lies than to apply too many reasons to logic or intuition that you are being lied to.

The researchers hypothesized that asking questions about these five basic details is all it takes for the contradiction to set in and for the liar to begin to get carried away with his explanations, revealing what he is hiding or cannot acknowledge. “We thought that the truth was in the simple details and, to reach it, we proposed to do without clues instead of adding others to detect that someone is deceiving you”, explains the psychologist.

Thus, in nine different studies, a total of 1,445 subjects were asked to guess whether handwritten statements, video transcripts, or interviews about a student's activities on campus were true or false about an alleged exam theft. Those who used their intuition to detect the lie (paying attention to nonverbal language and other signs of purely subjective interpretation), as well as those who analyzed a myriad of details to reach a conclusion, did no better than those who focused solely on the details of the story itself. The latter scored between 60 and 79 percent.

They were asked to examine “the extent to which the message includes descriptions of people, places, actions, objects, events, and the time they occurred. And, most importantly, whether these messages seemed “complete, concrete, striking, or rich in detail. Most importantly, the researchers found that it is better to use a single method of lie detection than to apply too many reasons to logic or intuition that you are being lied to, because you can then focus on one thing, namely the level of detail or depth of the stories.

In this way, we manage to avoid our own prejudices about the actions or people telling us something true or purely made up. “In high-risk situations, people are likely to enrich their lies with details to enhance their credibility, so it is possible that the rules of thumb for lie detection are context-dependent,” the researchers say. “A counterintuitive way to deal with information overload is to ignore most of the available information,” concludes Bruno Verschuere. “Sometimes less is more. In general, we are more inclined to trust our impressions and our intuition, which sometimes gives us the right idea, but in many cases is wrong.