September 15, 2012

The Eyes Never Lie?

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Chris Galloway, M.D. By:

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Lying and eye movement connection challenged

(dailyRx News) Most people have heard the idea, and many subscribe to it - that people's eyes move a certain way when they are being untruthful. This idea of a shifty-eyed liar is culturally engrained, even visible in cartoons and movies when lying is being portrayed onscreen.

A recent study examined these notions, particularly that people look to the left when lying and the right when telling the truth, and found them to be lacking in evidence.

"Group counseling can help improve issues related to untruthfulness."

The study, published online in July 2012 in the open access journal PLoS ONE, and led by Caroline Watt, PhD, from the University of Edinburg, consisted of three different experiments aimed to test the theory. 

In the first experiment, 32 participants (12 men, 20 women) with an average age of 22.3 were made to complete a serious of actions, then answer questions about their actions in a videotaped interview. (The eye movement direction and lying connection is said to be strongest in right-handed people, thus the participants used were all right hand dominate.)

Some of the participants were instructed to tell the truth and some were instructed to lie, as determined by a coin toss.

Results showed no significant difference between the length of time taken to tell the truth and the length of time taken to tell a lie (an average of 43.8 seconds for the truth and 42.6 seconds for a lie), nor did they show any significant difference in eye gaze direction between the two groups.

In the second experiment, 50 participants (16 men, 34 women) with an average age of 26.62 were asked to watch the interviews from the first experiment and determine if they were watching people tell lies or the truth.

Half of these new participants were educated in the theory about eye movement and lying, the other half were not.

According to the authors, the goal for this experiment was to be a more "ecologically valid test of this notion by examining the lie detection skills of people who had been informed about the alleged relationship between lying and eye movements."

Again, no significant connection between groups was found, and those who were educated in the theory proved to be no better at identifying the lies than were the uneducated.

The third experiment had experts analyze 52 videos gathered from international news organizations in which there was strong evidence that 26 of the interviewees were lying and 26 were telling the truth.

In this experiment, there was a difference in length found - with the truthful interviews lasting on average 18.37 seconds and the lies lasting on average 10.89 seconds.

However, once again, no difference in eye movement was found.

According to Watt, "A large percentage of the public believes that certain eye movements are a sign of lying, and this idea is even taught in organizational training courses. Our research provides no support for the idea and so suggests that it is time to abandon this approach to detecting deceit."

Therapies: 
Group therapy

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Reviewed by: 
Chris Galloway, M.D.
Review Date: 
September 12, 2012

Last Updated:
September 15, 2012