Science Tuesday: “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” — Unless You Can Outsmart It

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer
@sanahfaroke

I’m the worst liar. It sounds silly to admit because “everyone lies,” but I don’t have a knack for it. I’d divert my eyes, start to giggle or smile and run away.

A lie, for me, is kind of like stilettos. They are super cute, but if you wear them for six hours, they get tiring. You get blisters and callused heels and it’s almost not worth it. I’m a wedges girl myself, but those who like the long heels prepare themselves. And while girls prepare with band-aids and insoles, fibbers do their part to prepare too.

As painful as heels are, it’s much easier to pretend like those Louboutin’s don’t hurt after years of prep and practice. In the same way, people who lie are prone and do it more easily if they’ve prepped themselves with dialogue, scenarios, cue cards — you name it. Even on the spot lies have to be formulated somehow.

The fact of the matter is, it takes more effort to lie than to tell the truth, and why? Because it takes more brainpower to be a sly fox than to be an innocent sheep.

Brain imaging studies show just that. Xiaoqing Hu, a psychology doctoral candidate at Northwestern University, discovered that lying takes more of a mental effort than telling the truth because being honest is actually a natural default, and in order to come up with a dishonest response, we have to activate it.

In this study, Hu and his team asked volunteers ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions about themselves like their birthday or where they’re from. In some cases, they were told to tell the truth and in and in other cases, they were instructed to lie.

It was found that volunteers took longer to answer the question when they lied, but they actually were much faster to respond when they were telling the truth. However, when the researchers informed the volunteers what the study was about and were instructed to lie as best as they could, the results were different. Volunteers responded much quicker than originally and they lied even faster when they had time to prepare. Volunteers were almost as quick as when they said the truth, so now we can’t even tell! Great.

Hu’s next plan is to test the time it takes volunteers to lie with preparation to when they tell the truth.

The thing is, it’s much harder to keep up with all the lies over the years. It takes cognition, memorization, spontaneity… So, I guess honesty is actually the best policy, unless you get better at the latter.

To watch some true craftiness, see the video below:

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