Culture TEDx

5 talks that are all about lying

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The average person lies once or twice a day. And as Cornell psychology professor Jeff Hancock shares in today’s fascinating talk, given at TEDxWinnipeg, the anonymity and ambiguity of technology give us a whole new arsenal of ways to fib. He and his team have identified three new types of lies made possible by text messages, email and online comments.

  1. The Butler. These are lies that draw lines in the 24/7 nature of our relationships, while maintaining friendships. For example: “I’m on my way” or “Sorry I didn’t respond earlier. I didn’t see the message.”
  2. The Sock Puppet. These are lies that preserve identity, like when someone idealizes themselves in their online dating profile.
  3. The Chinese Water Army. These are lies which seek to build a reputation en masse, like when a company posts hundreds of positive ratings of their own product.

But Hancock has noticed something even more interesting — that people are actually far more honest online than they are face-to-face. Studies show that very few people gild the lily on online resumes. Even in online dating profiles, when people lie, the fibs are small — a person rounding up an inch or down 10 pounds, but giving a number close to the truth. In fact, in Hancock’s studies, people were found to tell more lies over the phone than in email. Why? It may be because communication mediated by technology leaves a record, one that is both searchable and verifiable.

To hear more, watch Hancock’s talk. After the jump, watch four more great talks about the phenomenon of lying. And while you’re at it, check out TEDWeekends, which this week is themed “Understanding Deception.”

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Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar
Pamela Meyer believes that we are facing a pandemic of deception. While Hancock says that lying happens regularly, Meyer’s estimates for the frequency are higher — she says that every person is lied to 10 to 200 times a day. In this talk from TEDGlobal 2011, she gives tips for spotting when a lie is in progress.

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Marco Tempest: The magic of truth and lies (and iPods)
In this talk from TEDGlobal 2011, illusionist Marco Tempest uses three iPods for a meditation on the meaning of truth and lies. While magic involves deception, he explains why it is also the most honest profession around.

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Dan Ariely: Our buggy moral code
Why do human beings continually cheat, lie and steal? At TED2009, behavioral economist Dan Ariely shares his studies about when — and why — human beings fall on their moral faces. As he explains, it’s not as simple as a cost-benefit analysis.

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Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception
From UFOs to déjà vu, human beings hold many inexplicable beliefs. In this talk from TED2010, Michael Shermer attributes our tendency to believe to something quite basic: survival. Our need to find meaning in the meaningless is based on patterns our ancestors developed to avoid danger. As we evolved, so did our patterns — leading us from taking the same path everyday to avoid predators to subscribing to a long list of superstitions.


What’s up – you scurvy dog, y’arrrrghhh. Ain’t this terrrr-ryphic?