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Deception is the act of knowingly leading another person or persons to hold a false belief. Deception researchers have examined deception primarily as an interpersonal action between one person and another in an interpersonal context. The focus has been on the detectability of deception through verbal or nonverbal cues and the relational consequences of discovered deception in myriad situations. Rarely has deception been explored at the intergroup level. Intergroup deception consists of one group (or a representative of a group) lying to another during a situation in which social categories are highly salient. The primary difference between intergroup deception and interpersonal deception is to be found in the identity for each actor. Interpersonal deception suggests a shared underlying identity, while intergroup deception implies divergent identities. Politicians who lie to their constituents, a union representative lying to the management during a labor negotiation, or two ambassadors lying to each other while attempting to resolve a conflict between their two nations each would be considered intergroup lies if actors see themselves as primarily representing their larger social group rather than themselves as individuals. While studies of intergroup deceptions are relatively rare, there has been important work done in at least three different contexts: in communication between members of different cultures, communication between political or military factions, and communication between corporate entities where each actor represents not only their personal interests, but also those of their organization. In these cases, the communicators each represent a potentially hostile “other.” Earning trust in a situation of out-group engagement is a difficult endeavor, and the study of intergroup deception explores how trust is earned in such situations and how deceptive communication is judged when the parties represent opposing forces.


Timothy R. Levine

Much research has examined people’s ability to correctly distinguish between honest and deceptive communication. The ability to detect deception is useful, but many misconceptions about effective lie detection have been documented. Research on deception is especially informative because the findings of research often contradict common sense. For example, both folk wisdom and several social scientific theories hold that lies can be detected through the careful observation of nonverbal behaviors. Yet research shows that most of the nonverbal behaviors that are stereotypically linked with deception have less diagnostic value than presumed. The widely accepted conclusion from decades of research is that while people are statistically better than chance at detecting lies, people are poor lie detectors in an absolute sense, averaging just 54 percent accuracy. Poor accuracy findings hold across the biological sex of the sender and judge, adult age and occupation, various types of media, spontaneous and planned lies, and more and less potent motivations for lying. Research also finds that people are usually truth-biased—that is, people tend to believe other people more often than not. As a consequence of truth-bias, accuracy for honest communication is typically higher than accuracy for lies, a finding known as the veracity effect. Subsequent research has yielded promising findings suggesting various ways deception detection accuracy can be improved. Focusing on communication content, especially when understood in context, understanding the motives for deception, using evidence, and persuading senders to be honest all have been shown to improve lie detection accuracy in recent experiments.