When the TV show Lie to Me jumped off in 2009, the hype presented it as grounded in true-to-life science of lie detection. Social scientist Paul Ekman of the University of California at San Francisco, upon whom the show is based, even critiques the scientific accuracy of each episode on his Fox-TV blog.
But watching the show actually makes people WORSE at detecting deception, while at the same time increasing their overall suspiciousness and cynicism about others' honesty, according to a carefully designed study just published in the journal Communication Research.
"Lie to Me appears to increase skepticism at the cost of accuracy,” reports the research team led by Timothy Levine of Michigan State University.
As reported by Tom Jacobs at Miller-McCune, the findings have real-world implications:
Levine and his colleagues argue that … most recent research casts doubt on the accuracy and effectiveness of lie-detection methods presented on the series as unfailingly successful…. So once again, "fictional media portrayal of social science theory leads to confusion between fiction and fact," the researchers write. "Viewers (of the show) may come away with the false sense they can better detect lies. Viewers may also acquire a false sense that law enforcement officers are being effectively trained to detect deception and, therefore, may be less critical as jurors or witnesses." So the next time you turn on a television show, keep in mind that the creators just may be lying to you.