Is your parliamentary candidate lying to you?

is your parliamentary candidate lying to you?

Richard Wiseman is a professor in public understanding of psychology says there are some crucial telltales that voters should be aware of - LEONARDO CENDAMO/HULTON ARCHIVE

Cynics will quip that you can tell when a politician is lying, because their lips are moving.

But according to experts there are clear “tells” that voters should look out for if they wish to determine if their representatives are being economical with the truth.

Richard Wiseman, a professor in the public understanding of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, said that cues often cited on television dramas, such as fidgeting, touching the face or gazing in a certain direction, do not work.

Instead, it is better to watch out for hesitation, more “ums and ahs” and taking longer to answer a question.

Liars rarely correct themselves. They also refer to themselves less frequently as a way of distancing themselves from the untruth.

Look for the hestitation

Prof Wiseman, who this month gave a lecture at the Royal Society about the secret world of magic, illusion and deception, said being able to detect lies could be useful in the run up to the general election.

“We’re not very good at lie detection, and the reason is, we’re looking for the wrong clues and signals,” he told The Telegraph.

“We tend to be quite visual creatures, we look at body language or moving around a lot and particularly where people are looking - down to the left or down the right – but research into all those things shows there is not a lot of evidence liars do them any more.

“Even truth tellers can be nervous and give off signs of anxiety, especially when being interviewed by a journalist or standing in front of the camera. Whereas someone repeating a well-rehearsed lie may be quite calm.”

He added: “When you get the ‘ums and the ahs’ and the evasive answers, and you get longer between the question and the beginning of the answer that’s when people are lying. You get fewer words like ‘me’ and ‘I’.

“When people are being genuine, they often self-correct, liars don’t do that, their accounts are surprisingly smooth and they don’t have that detail.

He said that people grow stiller and use shorter sentences because lying is cognitively demanding, needing continued effort to keep up the deception.

“They are thinking hard, and that normally involves not moving around very much,” he added.

“If you know how the particular person normally behaves, when you are asked a question that matters, are you seeing a shorter answer, less I and me, suddenly there is evasiveness, suddenly there are more stationary shows they are engaged in fabrication.”

Prof Wiseman who used to be a magician has gained international acclaim for his research into psychology, luck and deception.

In the 1990s, he carried out one the largest psychological experiments ever conducted, The Megalab Truth Test, which showed that visual cues, such as eye movements, are not a reliable indicator of lying, even though large numbers of people believe that to be the case.

In 2023, he was the winner of the Royal Society’s David Attenborough Award for public engagement.

Judge from a person’s baseline

He cautioned that all of the signals have to be judged against a person’s baseline. If a person who is normally verbose and gesticulates frequently suddenly grows more rigid and careful with their words, it could be a red flag.

He said that people needed to avoid allowing personal bias to influence judgment. It’s far easier to believe a politician of an opposing party is bending the truth, than acknowledging someone you would vote for may be untrustworthy.

“We have this motivated reasoning, and we don’t want to hear information that conflicts with our beliefs,” he added.

“We don’t want to change what we think so we seek information that confirms it and ignores what doesn’t.

“If someone already doesn’t trust a person it’s very hard to persuade them they are telling the truth, even if they are.”

Prof Wiseman’s advice to politicians is to be authentic.

“My background is a magician, so we are used to standing on stage and lying all the time and we spend most of our time trying to be likeable because it helps people trust us so they are not looking too hard at the tricks.

“Audiences can smell a mile off when you’re not being authentic.” Politicians need to find a way of being honest and being themselves and being likeable, and that’s how they will gain trust.”

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