Why Do People Cheat?
April 25, 2012 -
Did John Edwards work with his aide to hide his affair or didn't he? Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if he is found guilty on six charges of violating campaign finance laws, allegedly paid off to his mistress Rielle Hunter. As his trial plods along, there are certain tells, experts say, that reveal when a person is lying -- whether that be him or his aide, Andrew Young. But as detective shows and police know, liars always have their tells. In this slideshow, we take a look at the ways liars show their true colors.
Even if a liar can put on his or her best poker face, unconscious emotional "cracks" -- or unintentional and brief flashes of emotion -- give away a subject's real mental state, according to a study by Stephen Porter's Forensic Psychology Lab at Dalhousie University.
Although sudden cracks in facial expression could give away subtle clues to deception, one researcher found that tiny movements in facial muscles -- such as the zygo maticus major and the orbicularis oculi -- can unmask liars. Social psychologist Mark Frank used computer technology to analyze facial expressions, following a large body of research "about the evolutionarily-derived nature of emotion and its expression," according to a press release on EurekAlert!. Micro-expressions in subjects' faces, such as tics, smiles, frowns and wrinkles, essentially serve as accurate windows into the emotions, even if the person being interrogated is trying to suppress his or her feelings. Frank's system can be used not only to uncover potential criminals, but also even reveal terrorist threats. Frank, however, is quick to point out that his system only provides investigators with "very good clues" and "not proof of anything."
The Eagles may have been on to something. Eyes may reveal a liar in the act, and scientists at the University of Utah have developed technology to detect just that, as reported by Discovery News' Tracy Staedter in 2010. A computer camera and tracking software record minute eye movements to measure cognitive reaction. By contrast, a polygraph measures a subject's emotional reaction. The system "also records other variables, including the time it takes to respond to a question, how long it takes a subject to read or even reread a question and how many errors are made," according to the report. The researchers hope that the technology will be adopted by various U.S. defense, intelligence and law enforcement agencies that regularly employ polygraph tests.
As anyone who has ever dealt with a bad liar before can attest, some people just can't keep a story straight. But even the most talented studied storyteller can fall into some familiar speech patterns that indicate a truthful tale. In a study published in American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, UCLA professor of psychology R. Edward Geiselman and his colleagues reveal speech patterns they have detected that are often red flags for deceit. Liars very often provide few details, have a tendency to repeat questions, actively monitor listener reactions, speak in sentence fragments and more. To unmask dishonesty, Geiselman and colleagues suggest listeners have potential deceivers tell their story backwards, ask open-ended questions and never interrupt.
If the source of every lie is the brain, shouldn't it be possibly to simply see if that particular region of the brain associated with deceit is active when a subject is lying? Scientists are attempting to use functional-magnetic-resonance-imaging (fMRI) as a lie detector. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2009, Joshua Greene, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University, found that "areas within the volunteers' prefrontal cortices registered vigorous activity," according to a report on TIME.com. However, as Greene admits, the technique can't tell the difference between someone who intends to lie and a person who is contemplating whether to lie. Despite the limitations of this kind of technology, at least two companies have offered lie detection services using the same technique. This application has led some scholars to criticize these lie detection methods as no better than the polygraph. Even though these kinds of studies currently have their detractors, the efforts aren't without warrant. A 2005 study out of the University of Southern California and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found brain abnormalities in people who are habitual liars. "The liars had significantly more 'white matter' and slightly less 'gray matter' than those they were measured against," according to a press release available on Science Daily. The wiring in the brain, white matter may help liars with the extra cognitive effort needed to fabricate information.
Liars may not actually have their pants on fire, but their faces sure seem to heat up when they're not telling the truth, according to a study led by the Mayo Clinic and published in Nature in 2002. In 80 percent of cases studied for the experiment, heat patterns in the face change dramatically when a person is lying. Using high-definition thermal imaging technology, an investigator can monitor these heat patterns to assess the veracity of a subject's statements.
Although handwriting analysis is often regarded as a pseudoscience, it may have a potentially legitimate application in assisting with lie detection, according to researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel. Using a computerized tool to detect a user's hand movements, the researchers found that certain cues, such as "the duration of time that the pen is on paper versus in the air; the length height and width of each writing stroke;
the pressure implemented on the writing surface," can signal when someone is about to write an untruthful statement, according to a release in Science Daily. This technology is intended to work in tandem with verbal-based lie detectors.
The NFL released a report this week concluding it was “more probable than not” the New England Patriots knew they were violating league rules and purposely deflated footballs used in a playoff game last year against the Indianapolis Colts.
The incident is likely to tarnish the reputation of quarterback Tom Brady, MVP of the Super Bowl and the only quarterback to compete in six championships.
The incident raises questions about what motivates people to cut corners and whether anyone is immune to temptation.
"My overall view is that moral character isn't this fixed thing that occurs from childhood where the typical motif is an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other," said David DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston and author of "Out of Character: The Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us."
"We think of morality as a battle between short-term impulses and long-term impulses," he added. "Often, if you cheat, it can be great for you in that moment. However if you are found to be a cheater, in the long-term, that's terrible for you. There are costs and benefits, and different people have different prices."
In a 2008 study, DeSteno and colleague Piercarlo Valdesolo brought people into the lab, where participants were told they were going to have to do either an easy 10-minute task or a series of long, hard math and logic problems that would take 45 minutes. Whichever task they didn't do would need to be completed by the person who followed them in the workstation.
Participants could assign themselves one of the tasks or use a virtual coin flip to decide which one they would do. Fewer than 10 percent of people gave themselves the hard job, the researchers reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The majority either took the easy way out or flipped the coin again and again until they got the answer they wanted.
Afterwards, "cheaters" rated their behavior as generally fair on a seven-point scale. But when they watched someone else do the same thing, they were much harsher in their judgments of immoral behavior.
The findings illustrate some of the ways that people can subconsciously rationalize their own behavior to justify actions that they know objectively to be wrong.
"The one thing we know about moral behavior from the past 10 years of research is that it's a lot more variable than anyone predicts," DeSteno said. "We are always saying, 'Oh my God, that is so out of character.' But there is always someone doing something out of character."
A number of studies suggest that cheating has become more common in recent years, though none of the research has been done in a controlled experimental way, said Neal Kingston, director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas in Lincoln.
Whether cheating is getting worse or we are simply more aware of it now, one thing is clear: Cheaters are getting savvier. Especially in cases of impersonation, Kingston said, methods seem to have become more sophisticated and scandals have become larger in scale.
"In 1974 I knew a case where a student discovered lax security in a GMAT testing center for students who registered late," Kingston said. "He paid someone to register late with him and as late-comers they were sat next to each other.
"After the test started and they signed their answer sheets, they each dropped them on the floor and picked up the one with the other person's name and took the test," he continued. "In a stroke of ironic justice, the person who paid scored significantly higher than the impersonator, but was stuck with the impersonator's score."