What cognitive biases need to be taken into account in order to correctly detect untruths given memory errors.

1 August 2023 13 minutes Author: Cyber Witcher

The influence of memory errors on the recognition of lies and manipulations

Memory errors and cognitive distortions can affect a person’s ability to correctly recognize lies and manipulation. In this article, we will consider various types of memory errors and cognitive distortions that can lead to inaccurate perception of information, as well as find out how to take them into account and get rid of unwanted consequences. Confirmation Effect: A person’s tendency to seek out, perceive, and remember information that confirms their own views and beliefs while ignoring or underestimating evidence that contradicts those views. False memory effect: The tendency to remember events that never happened or distort memories of real events under the influence of external factors. Groupthink Effect: The tendency to follow the opinion of the majority or authority, even if that opinion is wrong, or to suppress one’s own opinion that may be right. Confirmation effect: The tendency to look only for evidence that confirms our pre-existing beliefs and to ignore other possible options.

Groupthink Effect: The tendency to follow the opinion of the majority or authority, even if that opinion is wrong, or to suppress one’s own opinion that may be right. Selective attention and perception: The tendency to focus only on evidence that supports our beliefs, ignoring other aspects of the situation. Understanding these cognitive distortions helps to improve education and critical thinking, as well as to correctly recognize lies and manipulation. Considering these aspects, a person can provide a more objective perception of information and make smarter and more informed decisions.

Let’s start

With this article, I decided to start a series of several texts to help those who, due to the duty of service (for example, in the IB or SB), and simply “for life” have to recognize truth and lies. We will analyze how to detect signs of deception in speech and non-verbal manifestations, study successful interview scripts and debunk myths. But in the first article I want to discuss the topic of memory errors. They happen often. You will recognize a lie, while a person can be sincerely convinced of his rightness.

Most people believe that our brain works like a video camera, and memory contains a literal record of events. But it is not so. Access to the recording may become difficult, the vividness of impressions may go astray, some parts may be missing.

There are several well-known memory effects that we should keep in mind when verifying lies.

1)  We notice what our brain considers important in the moment, and the signals that are judged as unimportant are suppressed.

2) Our memories are part of the connected story that we constantly create from the chaos of data. If the brain notices a contradiction in this story, it tries to eliminate, smooth or forget it. For this to happen, our brain significantly adjusts our memories.

3) Witnesses discussing the event among themselves will unconsciously bring their memories of it to a common denominator. This is from cognitive distortions – “conformity”.

4) The general theme and emotional background of the memory is preserved quite precisely, and the details are thought out. In addition, they are selected in such a way that they not only do not contradict, but also reinforce and strengthen the central theme and emotion. Thus, “I caught one crucian carp” turns into “I caught ten crucians and a pike”, obeying the central message: “the fishing was excellent”.

5) The source of information is erased from memory much faster than the information itself. What is important is what to remember, and where you got it from doesn’t matter. This is one of the key points in the formation of fake news and false accusations.

6) What we remember is the truth for us. And it doesn’t really matter if it actually was or not: the information agenda drives. It works like this. You say something, then explain that it is not true. But after 3 days, 27% of young people and 40% of middle-aged people, recalling the statement, will consider it true.

7) Egocentric distortion in memory. We have a tendency to put ourselves at the center of stories and provide experiences that we’ve heard about, read about, or watched a video about. Of course, we will not attribute completely incredible actions to ourselves, but we can lie to ourselves and others quite a bit about little things. It is easy to remember that we were in a zoo that we only saw on TV.

8) Evoked memories: “now that you ask, I’m starting to remember.” Good psychologists can suggest a lot to a client and actually make them believe in events that never happened. This is also one of the important points that must be taken into account, in particular, in long-term harassment or family violence.

In fact, our memory is an internal designer, which, depending on the style, professionalism and subjective view that is preferred, colors and transforms the original picture of a real fact into a plot with a similar, but always different narrative and entourage. Yes, actually, history is changing.

Can you believe your eyes?

What to pay attention to when evaluating non-verbal manifestations of lies

We analyzed what cognitive distortions prevent us from identifying deception. Let’s develop the topic of toolless lie detection.

This method can be divided into 2 categories:

  1. Assessment of non-verbal reactions;

  2. Assessment of language (and texts).

Maximum efficiency can only be guaranteed by combining the two models. Today I want to discuss the first type. Let’s discuss what real conclusions can be drawn from “reading” faces and facial expressions, and what are just stereotypes. And a bonus for those who have finished reading the text is to simulate becoming almost like Paul Ekman in recognizing emotions.

Evaluating a person’s nonverbal responses to certain questions is a study of so-called expression. “The first signal system”. That is, signals that are usually less controlled by consciousness (facial expressions, gestures, skin reactions, etc.) It is assumed that any attempt to control them will be detected by an attentive eye or device.

A classic of all research in this field is that the participants of the experiment have to tell a true story about someone (most often about themselves) and then a false story. Both stories were captured on video. The other participants in the experiment (who did not know which stories were true) then watched the recording and rated each story as true or false.

In some experiments, participants were asked to draw conclusions based on:

  • Only on sound messages (no image);

  • Only on visual messages (without sound);

  • On sound and video at the same time.

And they asked, on the basis of which signs they drew conclusions about whether the person in the video is lying or telling the truth. The results of experiments show that it is possible to draw correct conclusions in each case, but the percentage of correct answers will be different.

“Your voice is not at all like your mother’s”, or How to detect lies in the language of the speaker

There are several proven signs of lying that can be detected in language. A liar’s speech often consists of negative statements, very general statements, monosyllabic answers, and little information about the speaker himself and his experiences. The same sentences are repeated over and over again, the speech is not spontaneous. As the conversation progressed, it became less precise, the speaker made more grammatical errors, and hesitated (DiPaulo et al., 1985a; Zuckerman and Drivef, 1984).

In addition, liars changed their tone more often and were more indecisive (DiPaulo et al., 1985a; Zuckerman & Drivef, 1984), spoke more slowly, and took longer to think about their answer. Incorrect answers to interview questions are often less confident and more complex (Harrison et al., 1978). In general, deception entails a higher intellectual cost than honesty (Eliot, 1979) because of the lack of spontaneity and verbal control. But these are trends rather than laws.

“Look into my eyes”

I will say right away that when evaluating the video chat without sound, the test participants were more likely to focus on regularities. According to them, a liar is someone who avoids eye contact and takes a closed and stooped position. He laughs a lot “honestly” to cover up his lies and is quite positive. Liars know these patterns and try to avoid them (Ekman, 1988).

It is generally accepted that a liar is usually ostentatious and uses several “adjustments” – ie. self-touch gestures (eg face, neck, hair, etc.) A classic stereotype with NLP is the misinterpretation of “eye access signals” (OGS).

According to this concept, if a person looks to the right and up when answering your question, it means they are lying. If he looks to the left and up, he is most likely telling the truth.

I hasten to assure you that this concept is completely unproven and just a stereotype.

Fortunately, in addition to stereotypes, there are enough scientifically proven facts. It is known that reactions of the autonomic nervous system are activated during deception. For example – a change in breathing (the liar begins to control or hold it), the skin becomes red or pale, sweating increases and even the pupils dilate, and, by the way, a change in the so-called pattern of movement changes (you will not notice this with the naked eye, this is done by special devices – “eyetrackers”). These parameters, which are controlled by the higher nervous system, are virtually impossible to consciously control.

But they are noticed only by those who pay attention and who have practiced in the lie detector (I will tell you how to practice the skill below). Others pay little attention to these signs. That’s why I often urge the public not to believe that “the body can’t lie”, because someone who doesn’t have a sharp eye is lying 🙂 Another problem with instrument-free lie detection is that non-verbal responses are not specific and never directly indicate deception . Instead, they talk about what kind of stress a person feels in that context.

The auditor’s task in this sense is to correctly recognize these signs and demonstrate that they are related to deception, and not to the respondent’s stress reaction to the survey itself. True, it is not easy to do this and requires a deep study of the interlocutor, his behavior, personality, psychological type, etc.

So that’s it?!

If you’ve read this far, you may have concluded that everything is fragile and there are no non-verbal cues to trust.

Indeed, experts “convince” using technology (polygon detectors), replicating presentations (the same answer tested multiple times), emotional provocation, even athletic prowess. manipulate the perception of “customers”.

In the complex, this allows to increase the rate of true detection of lies. Another option for “insurance” is emotional provocation, introduced by Paul Ekman himself – one of the most authoritative tools for the study of emotions, a lie test, widely accepted by the public, known as a mentor from the series “Fool Me”.

The essence of the technique is that the verifier, in response to a person’s story, gives a quick answer: does he believe it or not. The back reaction of the interlocutor is an indicator.

There are 4 options in these reactions, namely:

1) The verifier believed the false statement

If the verifier reports that he believed the distorted information, then the liar often has an emotion of contempt or its analogues, accompanied by bodily asymmetry. The cheater at the unconscious level, as if says to himself: “I beat the expert” and shows notes of arrogance towards him. In general, the reaction may be different, but the emotion of contempt (even if it was in the background) will clearly increase – this is exactly what we are looking for.

2) The verifier confirms that he believes what was told (the truth)

For the “suspect”, this is a sign that there is no reason to worry about a false accusation or fight for your own safety. He has a mild reaction of pleasure and/or mild joy.

3) The verifier does not believe lies

That is, informs the person involved that his lie was not successful. This shows that it was not possible to hide his participation in the crime and he will have to answer for his actions. This causes an emotion of fear (perhaps only a micro-expression), the freezing of one pose, the neutralization of all non-verbal actions. A possible manifestation of false surprise, which lasts more than a second, manifests itself prematurely and later turns into an emotion of fear or disgust. The following reactions may be different, but here we are looking for fear and anxiety.

4) The verifier does not believe the truth

As a rule, at first there is surprise, which turns into indignation, anger. The emotion of surprise indicates that a person imagined the possibility of being accused of a lie (crime). The emotion of surprise is the shortest, lasting well under a second, followed by an expression of rejection of the situation, which may be expressed in anger directed at the expert who reported this information. In the case of anxiety and worry, the uninvolved person denies his involvement in the form of a non-verbal sign of “disagreement”. His chin is raised up, he looks at the expert as if from above. There are many standard manifestations of denial.

Here is a diagram for convenience

Practitioners often use this technique and find it effective, but “hard science” has yet to prove its effectiveness. In particular, some studies describe the reliability of these responses as between 45-64%.

I added this technique to make it more effective. After the first reaction of the “suspect”, I continued to repeat: “You know what, I must be wrong,” and I changed my mind: if I had believed him at first, I would have said that he betrayed me.

And if I didn’t believe it at first, I would say that it convinced me. And again, watching the answer in return, rechecking the previous test. Surprise J This technique also requires skillful application. The ability to see a person’s face and understand their emotions within a short period of time is a special and often quite difficult skill that requires practice.

How to train?

The skill of identifying emotions is very useful and is part of the framework of teaching about emotional intelligence. In my experience, there are two main ways to train this competency.

The first is to systematically study the principles and signs of emotions in the face, voice and gestures, using scientific approaches, such as, for example, FACS. This will allow you to understand and structurally describe all signs of emotions and their expressiveness.

The second is to watch and listen to a thousand (preferably more) photos, videos and audio fragments marked by emotions. The good thing is that they are now quite easy to find: they are used to train neural networks to identify emotions. If a neural network learns from it, so will a person.

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