Apr 05

The Longest Debate in History

LiesA recent study conducted by Shaul Shalvi, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, uncovered that the more time permitted to pass between an event or question and the response, the less likely a subject is to lie. The subjects were instructed to roll a die and report the outcome. The greater the number, the more money the subject would be paid.

The researchers had no way of knowing what numbers participants actually rolled, of course. But they knew, statistically, that the average roll, if people reported honestly, should have been 3.5. This gave them a baseline from which to calculate participants’ honesty. Those forced to enter their results within 20 seconds, the researchers found, reported a mean roll of 4.6. Those who were not under any time pressure reported a mean roll of 3.9. Both groups lied, then. But those who had had more time for reflection lied less.

A second experiment confirmed this result. A different bunch of volunteers were asked to roll the die just once. Again, half were put under time pressure and, since there were no additional rolls to make, the restriction was changed from 20 seconds to eight. The others were allowed to consider the matter for as long as they wished.

In this case the first half reported an average roll of 4.4. Those given no time limit reported an average of 3.4. The second lot, in other words, actually told the truth.

I could not help but query if the American view that quick decisiveness is a sign of strength to be admired ultimately leads to more societal deceit. Could our incessant desire for lightening fast feedback actually be contributing to a steady decline in overall truthfulness. Are we learning to lie more effectively as a result? I certainly welcome further experimentation comparing the United States to cultures with an alternate view.

I wonder what would come of a presidential debate, for example, wherein the candidates were forced to contemplate their response to each question for a minimum period of time. Would human psychology affect their ability to mislead us intentionally? Would their level of discomfort in telling lies be apparent? I do know it would be awfully fun to watch.