Monday, April 7, 2008


I missed a post last week. I could have lied and said something about be busy, but I just wasn't motivate enough. That got me thinking about lying. So, I have decided to put up an analysis I wrote on Interpersonal Deception Theory.

On the hit FOX show House the show’s protagonist Dr. House frequently uses the popular mantra “everybody lies.” This fits the character of Dr. House, a rude, misanthropic cynic who also happens to be the best doctor in the area. His mantra is often a source of conflict with other characters, most of which have a common belief in people and their good intentions. Yet, at the end of each episode Dr. House is right and at one point someone lied.
Interpersonal Deception Theory analyzes the way we lie and deceive others, and it’s not as simple as House looking at an inanimate object and figuring out what is wrong with the patient moments before they die. According to David Buller and Judee Burgoon, people often find themselves in situations where they make statements that are less than completely honest and deceive another. This is accomplished by manipulating information. They theorize that there are three deception strategies people use when they are not being forthright, falsification, concealment, and equivocation.
The first, falsification, is what many consider an outright lie. Falsification creates a fiction, an event that didn’t happen. Falsification can commonly be seen with adolescents. I myself falsified often when deceiving my parents and teachers. Also, judging by popular cultures representation of the criminal justice system many people who are connected with a criminal investigation will falsify events in the hopes of staying out of jail. Lastly, currently in professional sports, politics, and society many public figures have claimed not to have done something wrong but were later implicated, most notably Marion Jones. However used, falsification is a strategic deception.
Buller and Bergoon theorize that strategic deception requires more mental effort and may cause a cognitive overload when the deceiver is unable to deal with multiple complex tasks. According to Miron Zuckerman, when a person is deceiving another there are a number of emotional response, including the psychological arousal of lying and the guilty and anxiety that accompanies deception. All of these factors can lead to displays of unconscious nonverbal cues giving someone the “look of a liar.” However, deception research has shown that nonverbal cues are not always reliable indicators of deception.
Secondly, concealment is keeping something hidden, a secret. It is often thought that everybody has a secret. This has produced the art project Post Secret where people write one of their darkest secrets on a postcard and then have it published online. There is little cognitive overload in concealment. When pressed about a situation, however, concealment may often lead to falsification to keep the issue hidden or equivocation. Equivocation is the third strategy of deception. Equivocation dodges an issue when presented. Once again popular athletes and politics use equivocation when pressed on an issue. Most notable, Mark McGuire was subpoenaed to appear before congress to discuss steroids in baseball. When asked if he ever used them McGuire responded that he was not going to talk about the past and how he is looking to help baseball move forward. This strategy demands a substantial amount of mental effort, but not as much as falsification.
Every deception has a motive behind it. Buller and Burgoon judge a deceptive act on these motives, rather than on the deceiver. They believe every deceptive act has at least three aims, to accomplish a specific task or instrumental goal, to establish or maintain a relationship with the respondent, and to “save face” or sustain the image of one or both parties. These are all common motives that I’m surely nearly everyone has felt when deceiving another.
If deception is so common, or as House puts it “everybody lies,” then why are most of us like Dr. Cameron and Dr. Cuddy and less like Dr. House? According to Buller and Burgoon humans have a persistent expectation that people will tell the truth, known as “truth bias.” There is an implied social contract that all of us will be honest with each other. Yet, despite a powerful and prevailing truth bias in face-to-face interaction, people can come to doubt the honesty of another’s words. Buller and Burgoon believe suspicion to be a mid-range mind-set, located somewhere between truth and falsity. And in spite of the many ways that respondents could become suspicious, Buller and Burgoon have found that it’s difficult to induce deep-seated skepticism. Thus, leaving House the misanthropic cynic who will continue to be the best, while all of the others continue to give patients the benefit of the doubt.

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