Guilt, lying, and attentional avoidance of concealed information
Kiho Kim, Jiwon Kim and Jang-Han Lee, Chung-Ang University, 2016, 44(9), 1467–1476

How does one detect whether someone is lying or not? This question has puzzled me for quite some time and I still cannot give a definite answer, even after three and a half years of PhD research. For decades, forensic and social behavior research has resulted in contradictory findings as to whether particular facial and body cues are indicative of deception and can be correctly interpreted by the perceiver (e.g., Frank & Ekman, 1997; Vrij, 2007). For instance, gaze aversion, may, in some cases, be associated with deception, but is also indicative of nervousness when being questioned (e.g., Anolli & Ciceri, 1997). However, researchers at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, Korea attempted to shed light on this paradox from a different angle. 

Rather than simply exploring gaze fixation, or a tendency to look at one’s feet when lying, Kim, Kim, and Lee (2016) investigated whether guilty and nonguilty participants differ in their attentional bias towards crime-relevant stimuli. They predicted that guilty participants, who took part in a mock robbery, would be quicker to fixate on crime-relevant stimuli (i.e., displaying an initial autonomic orientation response) but would strategically divert their attention away from the stimuli faster than nonguilty participants. 

Twenty-six males and 32 females were given the choice of participating in a “legal” data entry task or an “illegal” robbery (i.e., credit card theft) in which they were offered a bonus monetary prize if they could get away with the crime. Regardless of their choice, all participants denied taking part in the crime and their eye-movements were tracked while they viewed pairs of crime-relevant, similar crime-irrelevant and neutral stimuli on a computer screen. The results revealed that both guilty and nonguilty participants were similarly quick to fixate on crime-relevant stimuli, contrary to the first hypothesis. However, after the initial autonomic response, the guilty participants spent less time looking at crime-relevant stimuli and more time looking at neutral stimuli than did the nonguilty participants, which supported the second hypothesis. 

Overall, this study not only sheds light on how liars distance themselves from the truth, but how perceivers can detect them when they attempt to do so.

Helen Owen | Associate Editor
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal