What Psychologists Know that You Don’t

Doormats Unite: Confronting the Big Liar in Your Life

People who lie to us often wrongly interpret "beyond a reasonable doubt" as "100% proof". However, you do not need 100% proof to take action! You can use the implausibility of the liars' claims to decide that they are indeed lying. Read More

Pistorius trial

Hi Anita,

I am South African, male, and have been watching the live coverage of the Pistorius trial for a lot of the time. I can well understand that this could be a crime of passion. On the other hand, I have not heard anything in the testimony so far to suggest that might be the case. So, as you are a Professor of Psychology, I am very interested in just what it is that makes you think that he knew it was Riva that was in the toilet and he deliberately killed her. Just why do you think that is the case? Your post here on your PT blog really doesn't explain it. I think he knew as well but I can't say why, other than gut feel.

I hope you can say a little more - regards to you - G.

I (Mostly) Agree

I agree- it would be ridiculous to think that we need complete evidence to draw any conclusions about when people are lying or telling the truth in personal interactions. There are certainly times when you just know, based on what is normal behavior or simply based on a gut feeling. However, the court system can't operate that way, so we must deal the challenges and frustrations of requiring extensive evidence to make judgements.

Finding Evidence Elsewhere

I completely agree with this stance on lying. Too often we allow liars to use the excuse that "you don't have proof!" However, we are kidding ourselves if we are to abide by this rule. No one needs 100% proof of a lie to take action. It is difficult and sometimes impossible to obtain certain proof of lies such as cheating partners. We must take the improbable into account when deciding whether to take action.

It is important to remember, however, that there are flukes. Without 100% proof, you must accept that there is a possibility, no matter how small, that you could be wrong. I think we should TRY to look for proof in these situations, as it can only help the honest person's case. It is also important to look at other factors, such as circumstance and previous experience or behaviors. Does your significant other always come home late without any concrete explanation? Do they take sudden trips without telling you where they're going? Do they become enraged or panicked when they think you may have looked at their phone? If this is the case, then it is likely that an undisclosed hotel charge with champagne is an instance of cheating. But if the accused liar is instead your 65 year old wife with whom you have ten children who goes to church every day and has never even looked at another man in front of you, then it is much more likely that indeed, she needed a few hours to herself to unwind!

I like that you pointed out

I like that you pointed out how you don't need concrete proof to make reasonable conclusions. Too often we go against our gut feeling when someone points out we don't have definitive proof of something that any reasonable person would believe to be true. I think it is important for us to go with what our gut instinct is telling us- we know ourselves, in relationships we know the person the feeling is about, and we need to trust what we are feeling is true. If you're high on the honesty/humility scale you wouldn't believe your wife was cheating on you if she had never given a reason for you to believe so. But if her behavior has led to you feeling a certain way, it is probably for a reason. This does leave room for error though and the possibility that we are wrong, but more often than not, instincts are right.

I agree that people do not

I agree that people do not need 100% proof to determine whether someone is lying. I think everyone knows what it feels like to be lied to. Lying is such a nasty and deceitful behavior that can often be caught with just a feeling. However, I do not think that we can say that this is true for all situations. It would be difficult if we lived in a world where everyone jumps to conclusions and holds to snap judgments. Though I agree that evidence does not always need to be given when calling out a liar, it is also important to be sure that your assumption is mostly supported and sound.

It seems to me that if

It seems to me that if someone uses the defense, "you can't prove anything!", it conveys an overall lack of respect in addition to increasing the probability that they are not telling the truth. If the "doormats" in reference are people who are high on the agreeableness scale, then these people should also be the ones who refuse to stay silent about major ethical issues, which seems like it could be contradictory to this article. However, perhaps the people high on agreeableness are willing to tolerate personal abuse, but would stand up to an injustice being done to someone else. If that is the case, it is certainly true that "doormats" who are high in agreeableness, and tend to avoid conflict, need to stand up to any injustice being done to them as if they were witnessing it happening to another person.

I agree with the notion that

I agree with the notion that you shouldn’t need definitive proof to take action in response to a situation like the one you described. That said, I’m not sure if you should break up with or divorce this person based on one isolated incident. If your significant other can give a good explanation for this behavior that seems innocuous and plausible, I think giving the person a chance to change his/her behavior is a fine thing to do. But saying something like “you can’t prove anything,” shows a complete lack of respect for you, and pretty much insinuates that he/she is, in fact, being unfaithful. Personally, I wouldn’t even be able to stand the possibility that my girlfriend/spouse was cheating on me. Even a situation less blatant than the one you described would bother me incessantly, so much so that I’d really need to reconsider the viability of the relationship.

I think that another way in

I think that another way in which the scenario of the wife and the hotel room differs from the Pistorius case is that I'm not sure it necessarily matters so much whether or not the wife was actually guilty of cheating. Others have pointed out that in order to evaluate whether or not she was likely cheating, we need more details about the situation. Is she otherwise stable, loving, and open? Or is she more secretive, inconsistent, and hostile when questioned? If the latter is true, it is indeed probable that she cheated on you. And even if that's not the case and she really did need some time to herself, I would argue that it doesn't matter. If you find her other actions and traits to be so untrustworthy, your relationship probably isn't in a great place regardless of her potential infidelity.

I agree that it would be

I agree that it would be ridiculous to demand 100% proof of a lie to take action against the liar. Everyone hates being lied to; it makes you feel unimportant and stupid in the eyes of the other person. We should be able to speak out about that. But in the case of the husband who saw his wife's credit card charges, what do you suggest is his next step? I assume you mean he should continue to talk to his wife about this before he jumps to drastic measures like filing for divorce. I don't know anyone who would take "You can't prove it" as a reason to drop an issue entirely. Most people would become more suspicious when they heard that. I think that when you believe someone is lying, it is important to confront them head-on by calling them out for the lie and demanding an explanation. Uncovering the truth is vital to know how to move forward from a lie.

I do not think it is

I do not think it is necessarily appropriate to draw such concrete conclusions on scant evidence, especially from the most important person in one's life. If your wife is generally a trustworthy and communicative person, it is improper and insulting to accuse her of something otherwise. I think that one should only take action if this event happens more than one time, at the risk of accidentally ruining the trust built in a marriage.

I sort of agree. I think its

I sort of agree. I think its true that you shouldn't need 100% proof to draw certain conclusions, but also I feel as though if its coming from someone like a wife or husband you should be more inclined to trust them. I think that constantly reading them to see if they're lying could create a very cold and jealous climate between the two of you.

Also the response of the wife in your example, "well you can't prove it anyway!" seems more suspicious than her actually just needing a few hours to herself. I can't imagine being told that and then just being like, "ok I was wrong sorry". That response would make me want to investigate more.

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Anita E. Kelly, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. She is author of The Clever Student and The Psychology of Secrets.


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