Interview: Erasmus Magazine

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The human equivalent of Pinocchio’s nose does not exist

Deception researcher Sophie van der Zee (ESE) has been nominated for the title New Scientist Science Talent 2018. “People are very bad at detecting lies.”

Now, she has been nominated for the title New Scientist Science Talent 2018. In an effort to drum up votes, she appeared at the ‘free market’ (vrijmarkt) in Utrecht on King’s Day with a large sign saying: ‘Ask me anything you want to know about lying’. “People often want to state their opinion about lying politicians and always seem to know how to recognise if their partner is cheating on them.”

What do you tell people who want to know whether their partner is cheating?

“My initial answer is always: maybe you should talk to your partner first. Because lie detection does not strike me as a suitable solution. In any case, I would never apply it in my personal life.

“If you still want to use lie detection, then there are several things you can do. The first step is collecting evidence. Statements can usually be checked. You also have to ask the right questions. For example, ask for verifiable details. Someone who is lying will provide you with less details or will tell you all kinds of irrelevant details.

“You can also ask the person to tell their story backwards. This is because we think and fabricate stories in chronological order. If you actually experience something, it is present as fragments in your mind, and you can easily trace the steps backwards. But someone who is making up a story will find it much harder to tell it in a different order.”

You can read the entire interview here at Erasmus Magazine. The interview is also available in Dutch.