Street, Chris N. H. and Richardson, Daniel C. (2015) The Focal Account: Indirect Lie Detection Need Not Access Unconscious, Implicit Knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 21 (4). pp. 342-355. ISSN 1076-898X

People are poor lie detectors, but accuracy can be improved by making the judgment indirectly. In a typical demonstration, participants are not told that the experiment is about deception at all. Instead, they judge whether the speaker appears, say, tense or not. Surprisingly, these indirect judgments better reflect the speaker’s veracity. A common explanation is that participants have an implicit awareness of deceptive behavior, even when they cannot explicitly identify it. We propose an alternative explanation. Attending to a range of behaviors, as explicit raters do, can lead to conflict: A speaker may be thinking hard (indicating deception) but not tense (indicating honesty). In 2 experiments, we show that the judgment (and in turn the correct classification rate) is the result of attending to a single behavior, as indirect raters are instructed to do. Indirect lie detection does not access implicit knowledge, but simply focuses the perceiver on more useful cues.

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