[Paleopsych] Human Lie Detectors Almost Never Miss, Study Finds

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Human Lie Detectors Almost Never Miss, Study Finds
  Thu October 14, 2004 05:18 PM ET

  By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

  WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As he lies, the young man shrugs, flutters his
eyelids and shakes his head. Another, on a witness stand, grimaces for a
millisecond as he answers a question.

  Most people believe they could easily detect such lying behavior, but in
fact most miss a good 50 percent of lies, says deception expert Maureen
O'Sullivan of the University of California San Francisco.

  But O'Sullivan says she has found a special group -- just 1 percent of
those she has tested -- who catch a lie nearly 90 percent of the time.

  "We call them wizards," O'Sullivan told a briefing sponsored by the
American Medical Association on Thursday. "Wizardry is a special skill that
seems magical if you don't have it."

  These wizards have a special ability to ferret out little tics that show
when a person is lying.

  She and her colleagues have so far screened 13,000 people for their
ability to catch a liar on videotape. "We found 14 people who we called
ultimate experts," she said.

  They could tell when people deliberately lied about feelings, committing a
crime or their own opinions.

  Another 13 were good at detecting specific types of lies. For example, she
said, "There was a group of cops who got very good scores -- they got 80
percent or more on crime but none of them did well on the video about

  Now O'Sullivan is trying to find out how they do it. She finds they have
little in common so far, except a motivation to catch liars. Some have
advanced degrees, some only a high school education. About 20 percent had
alcoholic parents.

  "They are located all over the country. We sit down and go over the ...
videotapes. I ask them to think aloud. I tape record them thinking aloud,"
she said.

  While most people know to look for certain cues as a person lies, these
wizards intuitively find an individual's peculiar cues. One may shrug when
lying, and another may make fleeting expressions of disgust or even

  "There are lots of clues. The problem is how do you put them together and
how to you make any sense of them?"

  O'Sullivan said her findings could help train better lie detectors -- for
instance, federal agents or therapists who need to know when someone is
telling the truth.

  She is not sure about other real-world applications.

  "We have made an offer to the federal government that it might be
interesting to have them as sort of panel when they have high profile
investigations," she said.

  What about analyzing the presidential debates between President Bush and
his Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry?

  O'Sullivan just laughed.

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