Congeniality Can Impact credibility
You just love spending time with your new coworker, or potential paramour.
But when does desirability facilitate deception?
When You Like What You See
As much as we logically accept the fact that everyone is susceptible to being deceived, we tend to give most people the benefit of the doubt — especially people we like. You might think that your new coworker "seems honest" or "looks truthful."
These observations suggest that you know what honesty or truthfulness looks like.
Sure, good eye contact, smiling, and an outgoing demeanor can make someone likeable. But that does not make them truthful. Manipulators make a fortune (often literally) by capitalizing on such stereotypical judgments.
You are no doubt aware of this to some extent, considering the heightened observation you likely employ when sizing up your best friend´s new paramour, or your daughter´s new boyfriend.
We can enhance our ability to judge credibility, even of people we genuinely like, with a working knowledge of several common factors that might impact our ability to reach accurate conclusions.
As many high profile criminal cases demonstrate, positive public image can obscure private indiscretions. Sure enough, George Visu-Petra, et al. (2014) found that social desirability facilitates deception. They explain this is because habitually presenting oneself favorably in daily situations may include a greater tendency to lie, which makes deception easier over time. Where delayed response time often indicates deception, it is possible that individuals who routinely practice social desirability techniques may be more efficient deceivers.
Familiarity Increases Credibility
We also tend to trust people we are familiar with, often regardless of context.
This is often because we like them — and even like merely seeing them, even if our interaction is limited to greetings and pleasantries. Over time, familiarity can increase both comfort and credibility, causing us to lower our guard, and making us more likely to confidently trust what we see. But should we?
But one advantage of familiarity is the ability to establish a behavioral baseline against which to judge aberrant behaviors.
Departure From Baseline
People often change their behaviors when lying — even when interacting with people they know well. Consider the respective cases of Bill Clinton and Saddam Hussein.
Stephen Porter and Leanne ten Brinke in "The Truth About Lies: What Works in Detecting High-Stakes Deception?" (2010) note that Clinton waved his finger as he proclaimed he "did not have sexual relations with that woman," thus demonstrating increased illustrator use. They note that Hussein, by contrast, decreased his illustrator use when lying. They conclude that the key to detecting deception regarding illustrator use appears to be noting a departure from a behavioral baseline.
When assessing the credibility of socially desirable individuals who have become familiar, consider a few common stereotypes conflating perception and deception.
Age-Related Ability to Perceive and Deceive
Ted Ruffman et al. (2012) note that it can be easier to detect deceit in an older adult than a younger adult, and older adults were less able to separate truth from lies.
Yet they explain that regardless of age, none of the participants had an advantage when judging the credibility of a same-aged speaker. Their research shows that apparently, older people might be more obvious liars, and less able to detect lies.
Research indicates non-native English speakers may be at a disadvantage in terms of credibility. A study by Jacqueline R. Evans and Stephen W. Michael (2014) indicated a bias to distrust non-native speakers, believing they were lying. Researchers suggest using an interpreter may be helpful to reduce cognitive load of the speaker, which could reduce the display of behavior that might cause bias.
Electronic communication with non-native English speakers also might cause us to jump to wrong conclusions about credibility merely because the use of words, phrases, or even greetings is unfamiliar or unusual.
No One Size Fits All
Whether attempting to assess credibility on or offline, no two cases are alike, and no method of lie detecting is foolproof. The analysis is complicated even further when attempting to separate credibility from likeability. Remaining aware of our own biases and potential methods of stereotypical thinking can enhance our ability to judge credibility without falling prey to stereotypes — even with socially desirable people we genuinely like.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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