The Science of Lie Detection

Have you ever wondered about the existence of a lie detection machine? For decades, researchers have worked hard on lie detection and found that your body usually betrays your mind whenever you lie. In science, ‘lie detection machines’ refer to methods that aim at testing whether someone is concealing information or not. Both men and women have a bunch of secrets, however, is there any difference between the two sexes in the ability to hide the truth?

To answer this question, a group of students from Maastricht University is currently conducting an experimental study that compares the reaction time between female and male groups. You may now wonder why reaction time can reveal whether you are lying or not. In the experiment, the participants acquainted themselves with several faces right before doing an attention task. These faces were stored in their long-term memory and were identified as familiar stimuli. It is supposed that the participants took more time to respond to familiar stimuli because, before performing the task, they first had to suppress memory activation related to the stimulus. In other words, it took longer to ignore or conceal ‘guilty knowledge’. It does not matter how perfect your pretence is, your body always reacts abnormally when you try to hide something you have known.

In this era, true information is almost a luxury good. We are struck by its great values only when we are cheated by fake information. Think of police investigations carried out to gain the necessary intel for preventing a terrorist attack. Interrogated suspects usually use deception or lying to mislead the authorities. As a consequence, havoc is wreaked: bombings or plane hijackings, for example, cannot be prevented. The authorities need better methods of assessing the validity of confessions so as to know if they are dealing with truthful information. Criminals become shiftier and shiftier. They master methods of concealing guilty knowledge. In the future, we may hope to have a novel method that not only detects lies but also is able to read criminals’ minds.

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