Truth Bias Can Hide Deception

People tend to believe others unless they have a reason not to.

Posted Sep 21, 2019

Stephan Amer/123RF
Source: Stephan Amer/123RF

People tend to believe others. This phenomenon, referred to as the truth bias, allows society and commerce to run efficiently.

Absent the truth bias, people would spend an inordinate amount of time checking data collected from others. The tendency to believe others serves as the social default. Relationships with friends and business colleagues would become strained if their veracity were constantly questioned. Consequently, people typically believe others until evidence to the contrary surfaces.

This bias provides liars with an advantage because people want to believe what they hear, see, or read. If a story is basically true, the truth bias causes people to excuse the loose ends that do not fit into the otherwise comprehensive narrative by saying, “He really didn’t mean to say that?” or “He must have made a mistake,” or “What she really meant was . . .” The truth bias favors liars when they lie by omission because the story they tell is true without the inclusion of the omitted information. The truth bias diminishes when people become aware of the possibility of deception. Judicious skepticism acts as a defense against the truth bias.

Skepticism suggests to speakers that their statements lack credibility. When listeners express a degree of skepticism, liars try harder to convince them that what they said is the truth. Truthful people merely convey facts because the truth is the truth. When talking to people, listen closely to determine if they are conveying facts or trying to convince you of the facts. Healthy skepticism is a good defense against the truth bias.