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Health & Balance

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You Can Hide Your Lying Eyes

Eye Movements Don't Betray Liars, Study Finds
WebMD Health News

July 12, 2012 -- You can hide your lying eyes after all.

A three-part study by U.K. and Canadian researchers finds no support for the popular notion that your eyes dart up and to the right when you tell a lie.

Truth-tellers' eyes are supposed to dart up and to the left. But there's no support for that urban legend, either, find University of Edinburgh psychologist Caroline Watt, PhD, and colleagues.

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

Watt and colleagues did three studies. In the first, 32 people (mostly college students) were individually told to hide a cell phone in a certain office and to return to the briefing room. Half were told to lie and half were told to tell the truth about what they did. They were then videotaped during a brief interview, after which they did a second taped interview in which the liars told the truth and the truth-tellers lied.

The videos, minus sound, were viewed both in real time and in slow motion by raters who did not know whether the subjects were supposed to tell the truth or not. They specifically counted glances (short eye movements) and gazes (longer eye movements) up and to the left or right for each interview.

The results: No significant differences in eye movement between liars and truth-tellers.

But wait. Maybe lying eyes can't be detected just by counting glances and gazes. Maybe it takes a trained person who's on the lookout for subtle eye motions.

So in a second study, the researchers trained 50 people to look for patterns of eye movement. Then they showed them the videotapes from the first experiment and asked them to detect the liars.

That didn't work for lie detection, either. As far as these trained people could tell, the eyes didn't have it.

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