Friday, May 15, 2009

Can I Tell If You Are Lying?

Can I Tell If You Are Lying?

By Brian Lynch, M.D.

Actually you can’t. Now the thing is you can’t tell if I am lying either. You may think you can but I am sorry you can’t. Who says? Well, all the people that study these types of things. Mr. Paul Ekman for one. He is a world expert on “reading” the face. There are some things I disagree with him on but about lying I do believe he is probably right and that is that almost no one can judge if someone is telling the truth or not.

What are the consequences of such an insight into human interaction? I think they are many.

I think we should think a lot about the consequences of this fact. That said I think if we really accept the fact that we cannot tell if someone is lying it can be very liberating as it frees us in many situations to leave the consequences of the lie solely to the person lying.

For example as a physician I know patients lie to me all the time. A long time ago when I accepted that I really had little hope of telling the truth tellers from the liars and really accepted that my job was much easier. I did not “fight” so much. My job is to do the best I could; if someone is lying it is their burden to bear. That is not to say I let myself be made a fool.

This has helped in my private life in that “I accept” my role in “the play” knowing that it is most likely that the lie will come out eventually and the “hurt” will be exposed and the fact that I did not force any issue at the time of the lie very much makes it so much more clear who actually was dishonest.

Let me be clear: Dr. Ekman certainly can teach most people to detect to a very high degree of certainty that someone is concealing something or engaging in some kind of deception but always remember we do not know why they are doing it. We should not and cannot be quick to judge even if we know this evolving science of lie detection. So to be clear almost no one, maybe one in one thousand people can naturally detect deception otherwise pretty much forget it and relax. Then if you do learn it be very clear about what you have learned.

Copyright 2009


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Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)

W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393311090

How To Get Where You Want To Go Brian Lynch, M.D. 2000 PageFree