The Language of Lying

We hear anywhere from 10 to 200 lies a day. And we’ve spent much of our history coming up with ways to detect them, from medieval torture devices to polygraphs, blood pressure and breathing monitors, voice stress analyzers, eye trackers, infrared brain scanners, and even the 400-pound electroencephalogram.

But although such tools have worked under certain circumstances, most can be fooled with enough preparation, and none are considered reliable enough to even be admissible in court. But what if the problem is not with the techniques, but the underlying assumption that lying spurs physiological changes? What if we took a more direct approach, using communications science to analyze the lies themselves?

On a psychological level, we lie partly to paint a better picture of ourselves, connecting our fantasies to the person we wish we were rather than the person we are. But while our brain is busy dreaming, it’s letting plenty of signals slip by. Our conscious mind only controls about 5% of our cognitive function, including communication, while the other 95% occurs beyond our awareness. And according to the literature on “reality monitoring,” stories based on imagined experiences are qualitatively different from those based on real experiences. This suggests that creating a false story about a personal topic takes work and results in a different pattern of language use. A technology known as linguistic text analysis has helped to identify four such common patterns in the subconscious language of deception.

First, liars reference themselves less when making deceptive statements. They write or talk more about others, often using the third person to distance and disassociate themselves from their lie. Which sounds more false: “Absolutely no party took place at this house,” or “I didn’t host a party here”?

Second, liars tend to be more negative, because, on a subconscious level they feel guilty about lying. For example, a liar might say something like, “Sorry, my stupid phone battery died. I hate that thing.”

Third, liars typically explain events in simple terms, since our brains struggle to build a complex lie. Judgment and evaluation are complex things for our brain to compute. 

And finally, even though liars keep descriptions simple, they tend to use longer and more convoluted sentence structure, inserting unnecessary words and irrelevant but factual-sounding details in order to pad the lie. 

So how can you apply these lie-spotting techniques to your life? The lies we encounter on a daily basis vary in seriousness, and may even be harmless. But it’s still worthwhile to be aware of tell-tale clues like minimal self-references, negative language, simple explanations, and convoluted phrasing. It just might help you avoid an overvalued stock, an ineffective product… or even a terrible relationship.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The language of lying - Noah Zandan

Animation by The Moving Company Animation Studio

New theory linking brain activity to brain shape could throw light on human consciousness

UNSW Australia scientists have shown that complex human brain activity is governed by the same simple universal rule of nature that can explain other phenomena such as the beautiful sound of a finely crafted violin or the spots on a leopard.

The UNSW team has identified a link between the distinctive patterns of brain function that occur at rest and the physical structure of people’s brains.

“It has been a mystery why these spontaneous patterns of brain activity occur when people are simply lying in a brain scanner not thinking about anything in particular and not doing any explicit task,” says senior author UNSW psychologist Associate Professor Joel Pearson.

“Our study provides the first over-reaching theory which can explain this. Using the maths of a ubiquitous natural phenomenon - harmonic waves - we have shown how resting brain function is related to the shape of people’s brains.

"The approach we developed also provides a new technique for analysing the enormous amount of data being generated on brain activity.

"And it could lead to a new way to diagnose disorders of consciousness by helping us understand the very complex patterns of brain activity associated with being aware and sentient.”

The study, by Dr Selen Atasoy and Associate Professor Pearson of the UNSW School of Psychology and Isaac Donnelly of the UNSW School of Mathematics and Statistics, is published in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers used data from two imaging techniques - magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) - to build three-dimensional maps of the structure of the brains of ten people.

“The MRI gave us the structure of their cortex - the wrinkly surface of the brain - and the DTI gave us an anatomical map of the underlying connections of the white matter in the brain,” says Associate Professor Pearson.

The team then analysed these brain maps using the mathematical framework of Laplace Eingenmodes, or harmonic waves, which describe natural vibrations of a system where all parts move together at the same frequency.

“Our results show the shape of the brain matters, in the same way that the precise wooden shape of a Stradivarius violin matters if you want to produce an exquisite sound when the strings are vibrated,” says Associate Professor Pearson.

“Brain activity resonates within the precise anatomical structures of the brain to produce the resting networks of oscillations we observe.”

Says lead author UNSW’s Dr Selen Atasoy: “The patterns we predict with the harmonic waves on the human brain can be compared to the musical notes composing a complex musical piece; the building blocks of more complex patterns of brain activity.”

Says Associate Professor Pearson: “Interestingly, the same kinds of harmonic waves are thought to explain other self-organising phenomena in nature, such as the patterns that sand forms when sitting on a vibrating metal plate, or the development of biological patterns such as the stripes on tigers and spots on leopards.”

While we’re pointing out Alarming Things Ford Did in the previous episode: referring to Fiddleford as “McGucket,” when the two were definitely on a first-name basis during the flashbacks in “Tale of Two Stans”  - not to mention “I’m sorry Fiddleford” on the brain scanner.

So in other words, not only “I didn’t miss my brother and feel guilty for not sticking up for him! He was suffocating me and I was totally better off without him!” but “we weren’t that close, and I certainly don’t feel agonized and responsible for his mental deterioration! He was just some dude I worked with sometimes!”

That dangerous distancing bubble Ford put himself in has a pretty far reach, is what I’m saying.