An article in last week’s New York Times magazine contained the following amazing statement: “Repeating a claim, even if only to refute it, increases its apparent truthfulness.”
Although the article had nothing to do with sociopaths, the statement made me think of my ex-husband, James Montgomery. Among his many lies, Montgomery claimed to be a member of the Australian military, a decorated Vietnam War hero, and a member of the Special Forces. None of this was true, but from what I can tell, he’d been making the claims since at least 1980 (we met in 1996). They’d been repeated many times, for many years—which apparently enhanced their believability.
Like most of us here on Lovefraud, I felt like a complete fool for being so totally deceived. Why couldn’t I see the lies? But it turns out that I have plenty of company. Psychological research indicates that in general, people can distinguish truths from lies only about 53 percent of the time. That’s not much better than flipping a coin.
No signs of lying
Some people believe that there are physiological signals that someone is lying—for example, extraneous hand gestures or averting eye contact.
In one study, scientists asked more than 2,000 people from all over the world, “How can you tell when people are lying?” The number one answer was the same: “Liars avert their gaze.”
This may be true for some people, but it is not true all the time, and probably not true at all with sociopaths. Here at Lovefraud, we all have stories of the predator gazing into our eyes while he or she lied through his teeth.
Some researchers believe that liars tend to move their arms, hands and fingers less, blink less, and have more tension in their voices. Still, these behaviors are not consistent—some people who lie display them, and others don’t.
The point is, in hundreds of studies, researchers have found no reliable signal that indicates when someone is lying.
I don’t know, but I assume that the studies were done on general populations, and not populations of sociopaths. If we can’t detect lying in normal people, what chance do we have with sociopaths?
Truth About Deception
The situation gets even worse in romantic relationships. The reason, quite simply, is that we want to believe and trust our romantic partners.
“As people become more intimate and more emotionally involved they also become less accurate at detecting their partner’s deception,” states the website Truth About Deception. “People are too willing to give their romantic partners the benefit of the doubt.”
The Truth about Deception website is dedicated to explaining lies in romantic relationships, and the information presented is scary. For example, it states, “Most people think they are really good at telling when their partner is lying, but research shows that thinking you are good at detecting deception does not make it so.”
This creates, according to the website, a dangerous situation:
- As intimacy increases:
- People’s confidence at detecting deception increases
- People’s actual ability to detect deception declines
- Partners have more reason to lie
The website suggests that the only real way of determining if a romantic partner is lying is through some type of monitoring or surveillance.
Awareness, intuition, evaluation
So what’s the answer? How do we know when someone is lying?
The first step is to realize that people do, in fact, lie. That’s how honest, trustworthy people get into trouble—we don’t lie, so we don’t expect people to lie to us. This is a dangerous blind spot.
Our initial clue that someone is lying will probably come from our intuition. If we get that hit, that inkling, that the truth is not being told, we need to pay attention.
Then, we need to critically evaluate what is being said, along with evidence that proves or disproves the statements. When facts are irrefutable, we should believe the facts, and not the pleas of the liar.