25 December 2007

Does TV Give the Edge to Lying Politicians?

In Richard Wiseman's delightful book, Quirkology, he reports on a study on lying. He and a colleague had the British equivalent of Walter Cronkite - Sir Robin Day - conduct two interviews. In one, he told the truth. In the other, a series of lies.

As it turns out, people who watched the interview on TV could discern the version that was a lie only 52% of the time - not much better results than if they'd flipped a coin. But interestingly, 64 of newspaper readers could discern the lie, as could 73 percent of radio listeners. (As it turns out, the classic signs of lying - averting one's gaze and fidgeting more - don't actually predict lies. Vague answers and failure to inject one's self into the story (rarely using "I" for instance) are actually better predictors of lies and listeners not distracted by body language are more apt to detect this.)

Wisemen doesn't pick up on this point, but it seems to me that this has serious implications for our own time. As more people consume media from TV and less from newspapers and radio, we may be more vulnerable to lying politicians. So, next time you're watching a politician speak, you may be best to close your eyes. (And distrust any politician who refuses to do radio interviews.)

[And thanks to my son Blake for the great gift - Wiseman's new book is a fascinating and amusing read.]

No comments: