Study of the Day: Eye Movements Prove Irrelevant in Lie Detection

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The direction of a person's gaze has nothing to do with his or her honesty. Better indicators include hesitation, lack of body movement, and a tendency not to use "I" or "me."

Study of the DayEverett Collection/Shutterstock

PROBLEM: Though many believe that looking to the right indicates lying and looking left suggests truth telling, no research has examined the validity of this idea.

METHODOLOGY: Researchers led by Richard Wiseman tested claims made by Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioners that the direction of eye movements can reveal whether or not a person is being honest. They conducted three trials, wherein they coded the gazes of the subjects as they told fabrications or related true stories. In one experiment, the scientists even told one group of participants about the NLP eye-movement hypothesis.

RESULTS: Across all of the experiments, there were no significant differences between the eye movements of the participants who were being deceitful from those who were being sincere.

CONCLUSION: The way a person's eyes shift has nothing to do with his or her honesty.

IMPLICATION: Co-author Caroline Watt cautions people against lie-detection courses that rely on eye movements. "More reliable indicators of lying can be found in the way that people speak and act," she says. "Lying is difficult, and causes the liar to hesitate more when speaking, to take longer before answering a question, to move less, and to use personal pronouns like 'I' and 'me' less frequently than truth-tellers."

SOURCE: The full study, "The Eyes Don't Have It: Lie Detection and Neuro-Linguistic Programming," is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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