The Eyes Don’t Have It: New Research Into Lying and Eye Movements

ScienceDaily (July 11, 2012) — Widely held beliefs about Neuro-Linguistic Programming and lying are unfounded.


Proponents of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) have long claimed that it is possible to tell whether a person is lying from their eye movements.  Research published July 11 in the journal PLoS ONE reveals that this claim is unfounded, with the authors calling on the public and organisations to abandon this approach to lie detection.

For decades many NLP practitioners have claimed that when a person looks up to their right they are likely to be lying, whilst a glance up to their left is indicative of telling the truth.

Professor Richard Wiseman (University of Hertfordshire, UK) and Dr Caroline Watt (University of Edinburgh, UK) tested this idea by filming volunteers as they either lied or told the truth, and then carefully coded their eye movements.  In a second study another group of participants was asked to watch the films and attempt to detect the lies on the basis of the volunteers’ eye movements.

“The results of the first study revealed no relationship between lying and eye movements, and the second showed that telling people about the claims made by NLP practitioners did not improve their lie detection skills,” noted Wiseman.

A final study involved moving out of the laboratory and was conducted in collaboration with Dr Leanne ten Brinke and Professor Stephen Porter from the University of British Columbia, Canada.  The team analysed films of liars and truth tellers from high profile press conferences in which people were appealing for missing relatives or claimed to have been the victim of a crime.

“Our previous research with these films suggests that there are significant differences in the behaviour of liars and truth tellers,” noted Dr Leanne ten Brinke. “However, the alleged tell-tale pattern of eye movements failed to emerge.”

“A large percentage of the public believes that certain eye movements are a sign of lying, and this idea is even taught in organisational training courses.  Our research provides no support for the idea and so suggests that it is time to abandon this approach to detecting deceit” remarked Watt.

 

Journal Reference:

  1. Richard Wiseman, Caroline Watt, Leanne ten Brinke, Stephen Porter, Sara-Louise Couper, Calum Rankin. The Eyes Don’t Have It: Lie Detection and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (7): e40259 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040259
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