It’s easy to lie in a foreign language!

Berlin: Most people find it easier to lie in a foreign language than in their native tongue, according to a study by University of Wurzburg, Germany. The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, could be important for a lot of processes in which the trustworthiness of certain people must be evaluated for example in asylum procedures.

In our globalised world, more and more communication takes place in a language that is not the native language of some or all communication partners. Kristina Suchotzki, University of Wurzburg, Germany 

In such situations, reports by non-native speakers tend to be perceived as less believable even though they may be truthful. The discovery also explains why people communicating in a foreign language are generally perceived as less trustworthy even though this may not be justified.

Forensic research has mostly focused on the perceived trustworthiness of people speaking in their native or a non-native language. This research has revealed that observers seem to be more likely to judge statements of native speakers as truthful compared to statements of non-native speakers.

The experiments

  • The researchers conducted a number of experiments in which up to 50 persons had to complete specific tasks.
  • They were asked to answer a number of questions sometimes truthfully and sometimes deceptively both in their native language and in a foreign language.
  • While the test participants answered the questions, the scientists measured their response time, skin conductance and heart rate.

Lie takes more time than truth!

  • It takes longer to tell a lie than to tell the truth. However, the time differences between deceptive and truthful answers are less pronounced in a 2nd language.
  • The slight difference does not, however, result from giving a faster deceptive response. Rather in a foreign language, telling the truth takes longer than in one’s native tongue.
  • Whether neutral or emotional question, the time differences between telling the truth and lying are generally smaller in a foreign language.