Monday, November 13, 2017

The Lying Conference: Uncovering truths about deception

The Lying Conference will unmask the many factors involved in deception, including evolution, culture and the human affinity for storytelling and make believe.

By Carol Clark

We grow up with this notion that we should always tell the truth. But can we live without lying? 

That’s one of the questions to be explored in a day-long event, “The Lying Conference,” on Friday, November 17, from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm at Emory Conference Center. Emory’s Department of Psychology is bringing together scientists from psychology, neuroscience and anthropology — along with a leading journalist, a theater director and a professional magician — to discuss their insights into lying and deception. The conference is free and open to the public, but registration is requested. 

Topics to be covered include: The deep, evolutionary roots of lying. How children learn to tell lies. Cultural differences in lying. How we decide whether someone is trustworthy. How technology and the changing media and political landscapes are affecting our collective beliefs. The role of deception in the arts and entertainment.

“Lying is kind of a hot topic right now, with all the buzz about fake news and accusations of cover-ups and deception,” says Emory developmental psychologist Philippe Rochat, lead organizer of the event. “When we talk about lying, what we are indirectly trying to understand is, what is the truth? It can be a profound question.”

Science uses probabilities to approximate the truth, Rochat notes. “It’s a never-ending journey and you keep trying to get closer.”

In day-to-day interactions, we regularly negotiate the truth with one another, trying to convince others of a point of view. “People put on makeup to exaggerate their features,” Rochat says. “We amplify some things about ourselves and hide others. We make believe. We seduce.”

People can lie maliciously, in an anti-social way. Or they can tell white lies, to be polite and avoid hurting another person’s feelings.

Rochat is particularly interested in the developmental trajectory of lying. Between the ages of two and three, children begin to engage in pretend play. By around age four, when children start to have ideas about what other people are thinking, lying emerges. “They can be explicit at this stage, because they can understand that someone can be deceived,” Rochat says. “But they still cannot lie very well. They tend to leak the truth.” By the age of six or seven, he adds, “we become much better at concealing the truth and keeping a secret tight.”

Whatever the reasons for lying, one thing is clear: “We’ve evolved to lie,” Rochat says. “It’s deeply rooted in our nature and somehow important to our survival.”

Following are the seven speakers of the conference and brief summaries of their topics.

“Perspective-taking and Dishonest Communication in Primates and Other Animals,” by Emory primatologist Frans de Waal: While there is plenty of evidence for functional deception in animals — such as the way a butterfly might use mimicry as camouflage — but tactical deception requires anticipating the reaction of others. Tactical deception is clearly more developed in apes than most other species, although there is also evidence for corvids.

“Lying, American Style,” by Emory anthropologist Bradd Shore: He will discuss the role of culture in lying and how it differs across cultures. Shore will also touch on the some of the ways the American cultural model has been politically deployed and manipulated in recent decades.

“Little Liars — How Children Learn to Tell Lies,” by Kang Lee a developmental psychologist from the University of Toronto: Lee will use scientific evidence from his lab to show how lying begins early in life, what factors contribute to the development of lying, why children lie and whether adults can easily detect children’s lies. He will also discuss recent developments in technology that may help in detecting lies.

“Face Value — The Irresistible (and Misleading) Influence of First Impressions,” by neuroscientist Alexander Todorov from Princeton University: People form instantaneous impressions from faces and act on these impressions. In the last 10 years, data-driven computational methods allow scientists to visualize the configurations of face features leading to specific impressions such as trustworthiness. But these appearance stereotypes are not often accurate. So why do we form first impressions?

“What Happened to the News? Technology, Politics and the Vanishing Truth,” by Johnathan Mann, former CNN International anchor: Many American believe that the news media intentionally lie to them. President Donald Trump is the best-known detractor of “fake news,” though he himself has been accused of lying more than any other public figure in recent memory. Mann will address the overlapping changes to technology, politics and business that have crippled our national conversation with deception and distrust.

“Onions and Identities — Theater and the True Self,” by Emory dramatist Tim McDonough: Drama is densely populated by duplicitous schemers, by power figures whose lies maintain the sociopolitical status quo, and by characters in search of themselves, who mirror to us our confusions and self-deceptions. Theater provides a template for understanding identity and insight into existentially and socially necessary forms of deceit.

“The Science of Magic and the Art of Deception,” by professional magician Alex Stone: Magicians trick our brains into seeing what isn’t real, and for whatever reason our brains let them get away with it. Through a mix of psychology, storytelling and sleight-of-hand, Stone will explore the cognitive underpinnings of misdirection, illusion, scams and secrecy, pulling back the curtain on the many curious and powerful ways our brains deceive us not just when we’re watching a magician but throughout our everyday lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment