Let Their Words Do the Talking

Verbal cues to detect deception.

Truth Bias

A psychological cloak for deception

Truth Bias

A Psychological Cloak for Deception

People want to believe others despite evidence to the contrary. This is a normal reaction because, in general, people tend to believe others. This phenomenon, referred to as Truth Bias, allows society and commerce to run efficiently. Absent Truth Bias, people would spend an inordinate amount of time checking information provided by others. Truth Bias also serves as the social default. Relationships with friends and business colleagues would become strained if their veracity were constantly questioned. Faced with minor discrepancies in a story, people tend to excuse away inconsistencies because they want to believe the person who is telling the story. Truth Bias provides liars with an advantage because people want to believe what they hear, see, or read. The effect of Truth Bias is stronger if the person telling the story is a close friend, a spouse, or our children. Truth Bias diminishes when people become aware of the possibility of deception. The best defense against Truth Bias is judicious skepticism.

Consider the following exchanges between a salesperson and a client.

Exchange One

Client: We are about to give you a large order. Your company is a small start-up. Do you have enough manufacturing capacity to fill our order?

Salesperson: I can guarantee on time deliveries. We are going to expand our capacity in the near future.

Client: Good. Draw up a contract.

In this exchange, the salesperson’s presumptive response “We are going to expand our capacity in the near future leaves open the possibility that his company may not have sufficient capacity to make on time deliveries for a large order, at least, in the near future. The client fell victim to Truth Bias. Since the client wanted to believe the salesperson, he either overlooked, excused away, or did not recognize the possibility that the salesperson’s guarantee may not have been as strong as he lead his client to believe. Judicial skepticism increases the probability of obtaining more accurate information.

Exchange Two

Client: We are about to give you a large order. Your company is a small start-up. Do you have enough manufacturing capacity to fill our order?

Salesperson: I can guarantee on time deliveries. We are going to expand our capacity in the near future.

Client: Uh huh (voice slightly rising). (Judicial skepticism)

Salesperson: Well, it may take up to a year to get up to full capacity in our new facility.

Using judicial skepticism, the client was able to glean additional information that may impact his or her decision to place an order with the salesperson. Refer to Catch a Liar for more information on detecting deception.

Consider the difference between the following exchanges between a dad and his son.

Exchange One

Dad: How are your grades coming along?

Son: I’m doing pretty well this semester.

Dad: Very good. I know you’re a good student.

In this exchange, the son’s ambiguous response “pretty well” leaves open the possibility that he may be having some problems with his classes. Dad fell victim to Truth Bias. He wanted to believe that his son was doing well in school so, he either overlooked, excused away, or did not recognize the possibility that his son may not have been doing as well as he initially lead his dad to believe.

Exchange Two

Dad: How are your grades coming along?

Son: I’m doing pretty well this semester.

Dad: Really (voice slightly rising). (Judicial skepticism)

Son: Well, most of my classes anyway.

Dad: Let’s talk about the classes you’re not doing well in.

Son: Math is really hard. We’re studying algebra.

Dad: I’m pretty good at algebra. How about if we spend an hour or so going over your homework every night?

Son: Cool. Thanks.

In the first exchange Dad accepted his son’s answer at face value because he wanted to believe that his son was a good student. Conversely, in the second exchange Dad used judicial skepticism. His response “Really” was not a statement nor was it a question, but it did express subtle doubt. If his son was doing well in all his classes, he would have said something to the effect, “Yeah, no problems.” Since his son was having problems with algebra, he became sensitized to his dad’s subtle skepticism. Subtle skepticism gives the illusion that Dad knew or suspected his son was having problems in school, when, in fact, he did not know. In this instance, Dad was able to counter Truth Bias with judicial skepticism without causing his son to become defensive. Refer to Fibs to Facts for more information on effective communication techniques for parents.

 

John R. "Jack" Schafer, Ph.D., earned his degree in psychology from Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California and served as a behavioral analyst for the FBI.

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