By Brandon Peterson, Marketing —
No one likes a liar. This is almost universally true. In studies where people were asked to rate the likability of various words, “liar” came in the last place out of over 500 words. Unfortunately, people are also very bad at detecting deception. Your chances of accurately determining if someone is lying are about 54%, slightly better than a coin flip, and this number goes down when you are dealing with someone outside your own culture.
Adding in a cultural or linguistic difference into an interaction complicates things on both sides. Cultural expectations are different, and languages have nuances that can be very difficult to convey into the other language. Often, things that would be considered lies by one party are not considered lies by the other party due to different social norms. Imagine the difficulties this creates for international businessmen, potential immigrants in court, and at border crossings!
The Symptoms of Lying
There has been some research done on this topic. A 2006 study asked people in fifty-eight different countries to describe how they knew if someone was lying, and there was a surprising amount of agreement between countries. People tend to identify as liars people who contradict themselves, who don’t look you in the eye, and who don’t move a lot when talking to you. Unfortunately, the most common answer, not looking you in the eye, has no scientific basis as an indicator that someone is telling the truth. Many “symptoms” of lying are actually indicators of stress, not deception, and behaviors that some cultures might associate with lying might be associated with truth-telling in another culture!
Another study from 1990 had American and Jordanian students attempt to determine if someone from the other culture was lying. They tended to do worse than if they’d just left the decision up to chance. Part of this might be because expectations for “normal” behavior are different across cultures. For example, Middle Eastern people are more likely to talk loudly and touch each other than Americans. Japanese students smile more often to be “socially appropriate” than they do to express genuine happiness. When people from different cultures observe behavior that is different than what they are used to, they might ascribe that behavior to deception.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.