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Doormats Unite: Confronting the Big Liar in Your Life

Despite what the liar might claim, you don't need 100% proof to determine a lie.

Listening yesterday to the Blade Runner, Oscar Pistorius, disclose in a pitiful voice what happened the night he killed his girlfriend turned my stomach. Is anyone really expected to believe that he shot her through the bathroom door thinking she was an intruder? This conclusion is especially difficult in light of a highly plausible alternative explanation: She had wanted to dump him, and he was pissed!

Now don't get me wrong. If I were a juror I would weigh the evidence and make my guilty-or-innocent verdict hinge on whether the case was made beyond a reasonable doubt. I say this even if I actually did end up concluding that he was probably guilty.

Sometimes our own loved ones tell us whoppers that are almost as big as the lies out of Pistorius's mouth. But you do not have an obligation to suspend disbelief and put your brain on a shelf. You can use the implausibility of their claims to conclude to that they are lying.

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Imagine, for instance, that a wife comes home late one night, and her husband discovers two days later that she had used her credit card to pay for a few hours at a hotel -- with an added charge for champagne ordered through room service. This alarms him because he had previously seen some sexy texts to his wife from a handsome co-worker. When he musters the courage to confront his wife, she responds, "I just needed some time by myself to unwind...And anyhow, you can't prove anything!" 

Well, your life is not a courtroom, and you are not required to offer proof for your reasonable conclusions. Let us not forget that the truth, as opposed to only those events which can be proven, does matter! It is particularly ridiculous to require100% proof to take action! In the example I just gave, the husband can use the implausibility of his wife's claims to decide what is very likely to be true: She is banging another guy!

Acknowledgement:

This post stems from Anita Kelly’s Science of Honesty project, which was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

 

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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