Still, there is something darkly fascinating about those skilled in verbal legerdemain. And at least one team of scientists, led by Dutch psychologist Aldert Vrij , believes that it has identified the precise ingredients of "good liars." These researchers outline the following 18 traits (pdf) that, if ever they were to coalesce in a perfect storm of a single perpetrator, would strain even seasoned interrogators’ lie-detection abilities:
(1) manipulativeness. "Machiavellians" are pragmatic liars who aren’t fearful or anxious. They are "scheming but not stupid," explain the authors. "In conversations, they tend to dominate, but they also seem relaxed, talented and confident."
(2) acting. Good actors make good liars; receptive audiences encourage confidence.
(3) expressiveness. Animated people create favorable first impressions, making liars seductive and their expressions distracting.
(4) physical attractiveness. Fair or unfair, pretty people are judged as being more honest than unattractive people.
(5) natural performers. These people can adapt to abrupt changes in the discourse with a convincing spontaneity.
(6) experience. Prior lying helps people manage familiar emotions, such as guilt and fear, which can “leak” behaviorally and tip off observers.
(7) confidence. Like anything else, believing in yourself is half the battle; you’ve got to believe in your ability to deceive others.
(8) emotional camouflage. Liars "mask their stark inclination to show the emotional expressions they truly feel" by feigning the opposite affect. So you might see a liar cry, or rage to "cover their deception.
(9) eloquence. Eloquent speakers confound listeners with word play and buy extra time to ponder a plausible answer by giving long-winded responses.
(10) well-preparedness. This minimizes fabrication on the spot, which is vulnerable to detection.
(11) unverifiable responding. Concealing information ("I honestly don’t remember") is preferable to a constructed lie because it cannot be disconfirmed.
(12) information frugality. Saying as little as possible in response to pointed questions makes it all the more difficult to confirm or disconfirm details.
(13) original thinking. Even meticulous liars can be thrown by the unexpected, so the ability to give original, convincing, non-scripted responses comes in handy.
(14) rapid thinking. Delays and verbal fillers ("ums" and "ahs") signal deception, so good liars are quick-witted, thinking fast on their feet.
(15) intelligence. Intelligence enables an efficient shouldering of the “cognitive load” imposed by lying, since there are many complex, simultaneously occurring demands associated with monitoring one’s own deceptiveness.
(16) good memory. Interrogators’ ears will prick at inconsistencies. A good memory allows a liar to remember details without tripping in their own fibs.
(17) truth adherence. Lies that "bend the truth" are generally more convincing, and require less cognitive effort, than those that involve fabricating an entire story.
(18) decoding. The ability to detect suspicion in the listener allows the liar to make the necessary adjustments, borrowing from strategies in the preceding skill set. Liars can be readers of body language.
Why give the criminals such helpful advice? The authors anticipated these concerns, clarifying that they hope this knowledge will assist interrogators, rather than those sitting on the other side of the table. Furthermore, "Undoubtedly," they write, "this [work] provides tips that liars could use to make their performance more convincing, but most characteristics we mentioned are inherent, and related to personality."
In other words, there’s still a certain, inimitable je ne sais quoi to the great deluders. And should you find yourself so burdened with this particular type of genius, perhaps, as Mark Twain offered:
… the wise thing is to train [yourself] to lie thoughtfully,Good advice from Samuel, as always.
judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie
for others’ advantage, and not [y]our own; to lie healingly,
charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie
gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly,
frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with
pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of [y]our high calling.
Image: Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito, from Wikimedia Commons
About The Author: Want more Bering in Mind? Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBering, visit www.jessebering.com, or friend Jesse on Facebook. Jesse is the author of newly released book, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny and the Meaning of Life (W. W. Norton).
Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at http://PattiWood.net. Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at http://youtube.com/user/bodylanguageexpert.