[Bella’s introduction: I haven’t been very good at keeping up with the “Liars and Their Lies” section of this blog.  I’d like to think, though, that I’m back with a bang with this guest post by Charles F. Bond, Jr., who for decades has been one of the leading researchers in the psychology of deceiving and detecting deceit. I really enjoyed this contribution and I hope you will, too.]

Long ago, in a distant galaxy, I was a fledgling new Assistant Professor. Psychology was my game, and I had some superb students who urged me, one day, to help them do a study on nonverbal cues to deception. Deception captured their imagination, as no other topic could. Blithe to work on this topic by Bella Depaulo and others, Karen Nelson, Lucia Paolicelli, and I proceeded to examine deception during mock job interviews. We awarded the best liars money for their efforts and eked out a publication for ourselves.

Invigorated by this experience, I continued studying the psychology of deception. I was drawn to judgments of deception made by ordinary people, judgments that these people made without any special aids. In US Courtrooms, these types of judgments determine whether defendants are freed or incarcerated; in the boardrooms of big business, they alter the outcome of high-stakes negotiations.

With a Jordanian graduate student, Adnan Omar Atoum, I began studying international deception – Americans’ and Jordanians’ attempts to detect one another’s lies. In 1991, I spent a year in India investigating deceit with Urvashi Pitre. There I had the privilege of spending 3 days (and nights) in a rural Indian village, where no one had ever met a non-Indian until they met me. I compared the lie judgments of the farmworkers in this village with judgments made by college students in the U.S.  The results were surprising. More surprising, though, was a revelation about my time in the rural village. I had slept three nights on the floor of an open-air hut. While preparing to leave the village, I learned that this was a cow-dung floor.

Through the 1990s, I continued my work on international deception, and learned that there was less appetite for this subject in the U.S. than overseas. When I announced that I studied the psychology of deception, Indians were absolutely mesmerized; meanwhile, Americans yawned.

Then there was September 11 2001. Suddenly my phone began ringing, and Americans were eager to know about foreigners’ lies. I did, after all, have videotapes of Muslims lying in Arabic. So who should come knocking at my door? The FBI, CIA, Department of Defense, and ….

Presenting myself before the various security agencies, I at first confined my remarks to deception.  Slowly, I can to realize that these agencies weren’t really interested in deception – not deception per se. After 9/11/2001, US security agencies wanted to catch the bad guys. They wanted to catch bad guys who were lying. They also wanted to catch bad guys who were telling the truth. Meanwhile if a 45-year-old patriotic American male wanted to fib to his blind date about taking Viagra, US Security agencies had no interest. So it was not deception that they wanted to detect. It was evil.

We see lying as something others do. We see liars as the most despicable of human beings. For many of us, lie becomes another word for evil, and we would never imagine that we ourselves might lie.

But we do. In presenting ourselves to others, in smoothing over social interactions, in merely being polite, most all of us lie every day. When a wife asks her husband “Do I look fat?”, when a mother asks a friend “Is my baby cute?”, certain answers are socially demanded , and the truth be damned.   The hardest thing to learn about lying, I think, is that we are liars. Lying can be good. Telling the truth can be bad.

Recently, I’ve published some summaries of deception research and some professional critiques. With Bella Depaulo, I am also now publishing a book Is Anyone Really Good at Detecting Lies? (In paperback here, from Amazon here, or the Kindle version here.) It features six professional papers on this subject – a pair authored by Depaulo, a pair authored by Bond, and a pair authored by Bond and Depaulo as a team.  If you want to know the truth about lies, this is the ticket.

[More about the author: Charles Bond is a research psychologist (Duke PhD, 1980). He has held appointments at several Universities and published widely in psychology and statistics. To study international deception, he moved to India for a year. The resulting research has drawn interest from the FBI, CIA, Department of Defense, and National Academy of Sciences. In 2004, Bond gave a US Congressional briefing on cross-cultural deceit.]