Who is the best liar of the family?

Radio Rijnmond
Erasmus School of Economics

Sophie van der Zee, Assistant Professor in the Applied Economics department of Erasmus School of Economics, researched lying behaviour within families and groups of friends to find out who are the best liars and who can identify lies the best. In an interview with Radio Rijnmond, she talked about the research that has been nominated for the Klokhuis Science Award 2020

'It is not socially accepted to lie, but we all do it'

Van der Zee explains her fascination with lying. ‘Lying is something everyone does but is still considered taboo. It is not socially accepted to lie, but we all do it.’ Van der Zee explains that lying is not always a bad thing either. ‘There are different kinds of lies and in a social context, one is more acceptable than the other, but if you would always be honest with others, this would probably be pretty bad for your social relationships.’

Who are the best liars and who are best in detecting lies? 

Van der Zee goes on to talk about her research. ‘The research was fun and complicated,' she says. We had about seven hundred people record two videos,' says Van der Zee. ‘In one video a truth was told and in the other a lie. People then had to assess whether the video they saw contained a lie or not.’ This allowed us to test two things: who are the best liars and who are the best in detecting lies?

Surprising result

‘In order to be able to perform good research, we need to know when people tell a lie and when they do not’, Sophie explains in an interview with NPO Radio 1. ‘Participants were shown each other's fragments and fragments of strangers and had to assess them. We expected people to be better at detecting lies from people they know well compared to recognising lies from a stranger. However, this turned out not to be the case.’

So, who exactly are the best liars? ‘That has mainly to do with whether you are a charismatic speaker: the best liars are the people with the smoothest chatter.’ And if you look at who is best at detecting lies within families, the answer isn’t so clear yet either. ‘For parents it was in fact nothing more than chance, say 50% that they were correct. The other way as well: children do not know more often when their parents are lying either.’ Who then knows best that they are being lied to? ‘Brothers and sisters’, Van der Zee says. ‘I myself think that brothers and sisters more often form a team against their parents. They are together more often and therefore have more examples of what a lie looks like.’

Not much research in the social domain

‘Everyone lies several times a day, but not much research is done into lying in the social domain,’ says Van der Zee to NPO Radio 1. ‘Lying is more often researched in the context of jurisprudence. But also people who say that they are not lying, lie. However, they often do not remember. For example, a daughter corrected her mother who said she was not lying and could not come up with a lie. She had heard her mother lie to her grandmother on the phone that same day.’

Assistant professor
More information

You can still vote for the Klokhuis Science Awards 2020 here

Want to know more about the research of Van der Zee? You can find the item from Radio Rijnmond, 20 October 2020, here (in Dutch). Or listen to the item from NPO Radio 1, 22 October 2020, here (in Dutch).