May 28, 2011

NEW ZEALAND: Older find it harder to tell truth from lies

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WELLINGTON / The Dominion Post / News / May 28, 2011
By Tim Donoghue

Bernie Lynch interviewed Japanese servicemen after World War II, so he reckons he ought to be able to tell when people are telling porkies. But according to Otago University research, older people cannot lie as convincingly as younger folk and are worse at detecting lies.

Mr Lynch, 84, disagreed that older were poor liars. They were particularly likely to lie about their health problems, he said, sometimes downgrading them for social acceptability reasons.

"When you get to my age it is a risky business asking people how they are, because you don't want them to tell you. "People distort the truth for social fibbing reasons and sometimes do it very well."

TRUE FEELINGS: Bernie Lynch, 84, disagreed with a study's finding that older people are poor liars. He says they are likely to lie about their health problems, sometimes saying their health is better than it really is. Maarten Holl / The Dominion Post

But according to Otago University research, older people cannot lie as convincingly as younger folk and are worse at detecting lies.

Mr Lynch, 84, disagreed that older were poor liars. They were particularly likely to lie about their health problems, he said, sometimes downgrading them for social acceptability reasons.

"When you get to my age it is a risky business asking people how they are, because you don't want them to tell you.

"People distort the truth for social fibbing reasons and sometimes do it very well."

However, he agreed that older participants in the lie detection study were not as good as their younger counterparts at differentiating between lies and truths.

The study involved 60 participants being shown video clips of 20 people expressing their actual or false views on topical issues such as factory farming and stem cell use in humans.

Ten speakers were aged 30 or under and 10 were 60 or over. Two clips of each speaker were shown.

In one they were lying and in the other were being truthful.

The 60 listeners, who consisted of two equal-sized groups with average ages of 21 and 71, were asked to determine if the person in each clip was being truthful or lying. They also underwent tests that required judgments of emotional expression and age in faces.

Mr Lynch, an interpreter between the occupation forces and the Japanese at the end of the war, described the research findings as largely common sense.

The study also found:
* People who were lying often sent out detectable signals with some emotional content;
* The scores of older people in an emotion recognition test strongly predicted how well they would do in the lie detection test;
* Both young and older listeners found it easier to tell the difference between truths and lies when the speaker was an older adult, compared with a young adult.

 * The Dominion Post

© 2011 Fairfax New Zealand Limited