The Question

Your Gut Is Better At Detecting Lies Than Your Brain Is

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Do you ever get the feeling that somebody is full of it, even if everything that they're saying makes perfect sense? Did you go with your gut, or let logic guide you? As it turns out, it should have been the former. Humans are really good at sniffing out lies, as long as we don't think about it too much.

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Intelligence Versus Intuition

Quite a few studies suggest that lie detection is more instinctual than intellectual. It may even be an evolved ability, something akin to one of the senses. One 2014 study asked participants to guess the perpetrator of a mock theft. The same subjects performed much better when they were given less time to think. Another study, this one from 2009, pitted the subjects against recordings of five false confessions and five true ones. The people who were given a second task to complete while they listened to the confessions significantly outperformed the ones who were able to give their full attention.

What does all that mean? Basically, if you do a gut-check and things feel fishy, give that feeling some credit. It doesn't mean that you should always ignore logic. After all, our intuition is wrong in almost every case. But when it comes to detecting lies, you should definitely include your hunches when you weigh the evidence.

An Ancient Instinct

No other animal has language like us, so it's not likely that any other animal has a lie-detecting intuition like we do. Actually, language and lying might naturally go hand-in-hand. According to a February 2017 paper, lying may have guided the shape of human society just as much as language did. Other evolutionary views of lying link it specifically to cooperative communities (which would have predated our ancestors by millennia). In other words, it's entirely possible that we have developed a subconscious sense of honesty through natural selection — we've certainly been lying long enough for a trusty truth-radar to have come in handy.

If you'd like to learn more about the ways dishonesty shapes our lives, check out "The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves" by Dan Ariely. The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible.

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