Deception Detection is Professor's Mission

Jun 11, 2013


On average, people lie several times a day. Some of those lies are big ones but most are lies or deceptions we’ve come to live with if not accept or anticipate. A professor at Longwood University says deception is rampant in our culture and he’s looking for a way to help employers weed out dishonest applicants. 

Randy Boyle is an expert on cyber security and deception detection.  After 9/11 he got a government grant to help the feds find liars online, and Boyle returned with some tips on how to tell when a person is lying in an e-mail.

“Their sentence length shortens. Their overall tone becomes a little bit more negative, and they tend to use levelers like everybody, nobody, anybody.”

They might also use more emphatic language - words like immediately and urgent.  It’s far easier to tell if someone is fibbing if you can look at their face and body language.  Boyle says fidgeting, blinking, hemming and hawing could all be clues - along with widening pupils.

“When people lie, their pupils dilate slightly, and if you can accurately measure pupil dilations, it’s a very good indicator.”

Of course the best indicator is a polygraph test, believed to be 98% effective. “Your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure goes up, and you actually sweat just a small amount more, and it increases the conductivity  of your skin.”

But the test costs hundreds of dollars, and people might resent being hooked up as part of a job application, so Boyle is trying to come up with a questionnaire that will pinpoint attitudes shared by frequent and comfortable liars. “Do you think it’s really bad, and you’d never every do it, or would you lie, for example, to protect someone from harm?”

He finds that most of us would lie to protect a loved one, and many of us actually enjoy lying in certain settings.

“Santa Claus is an example of a pure deception.  Tooth fairy, Easter bunny - people smile about it.  They do it to their children, the people they love so much!”

We have great respect for professional liars - the stars of stage and screen. “Their whole job is to deceive you to believe they are someone else.”

And we fully expect undercover cops and spies to lie.  In fact, Boyle says he’s challenged his students to see how long they could go without deceiving anyone.  He himself gave it a try and lasted a week - during which he offended many people and concluded sometimes honesty is not the best policy.

So far, he says, his survey is able to accurately identify those most likely to lie 62% of the time, and - yes - he has ways to catch those who are lying about their attitudes. He hopes to fine tune the questionnaire so it can be used by prospective employers.