Detecting lies and liars is essential to effective policing and prosecution of criminals, but it’s maddeningly difficult. Most of us can spot barely more than half of all lies and truths through listening and observation — meaning, of course, that we’re wrong almost as often as we’re right. A half-century of research has done little to polish this unimpressive track record.But scientists are still working to improve on that, and among them is cognitive psychologist Aldert Vrij of the University of Portsmouth, in the U.K. Vrij has been using a key insight from his field to improve interrogation methods: The human mind, despite its impressive abilities, has limited capacity for how much thinking it can handle at any one time. So demanding additional, simultaneous thought — adding to cognitive “load” — compromises normal information processing. What’s more, lying is more cognitively demanding than telling the truth, so these compromised abilities should show up in detectable behavioral clues.
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