November 2005

Our Lying Minds

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

“I’d love to give you that pay raise,” says your boss, but we’re not in a financial position to make that happen right now; maybe next year.” Or perhaps your children are fighting again: “He hit me first.”

“…a surprising number of our social interactions involve trying to deceive each other–and spotting if we are being deceived,” says Raj Persaud in an article with the same name as this present article in July 30,2005. Psychologists are starting to get a handle on what it takes to be good deception detector.

Humans are not the only primates to deceive, but with our unique intelligence and language abilities we are the only ones to have made it such a fine art. Whether we are trying to attract a mate or gain wealth or status, lying can be an effective strategy, especially since humans are so bad at detecting deception. Even people whose job it is to detect deception–police officers, FBI agent, therapists, judges, customs officers, etc., perform on average little better than if they had taken a guess. Successions of scientifically well-conducted studies have shown that most of us are not very good at spotting if someone is lying.

However, some people are an exception to the rule. Two psychologists, Paul Eckman of the University of California, San Francisco, and Maureen O’Sullivan of the University of San Francisco located 29 “wizards” of deception detection out of 14,000 people studied. The odds of passing the test by chance were less than 25 in one million. Preliminary analyses of their study confirm some of these researchers’ findings: that fleeting facial expressions leaking emotions such as anger or guilt are key indicators of lying. Some of these “micro-expressions may last less than one-fifth of a second. Women often perform better on the average in nonverbal communication tasks, such as gauging people’s emotions through their expressions. And a study by Eckman found superior lie-detecting ability in people with damage to the left hemisphere to the brain. These people apparently were forced to rely more on nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions.

Another intriguing finding is that wizards tended to have had difficult childhoods, in which sensitivity to emotional temperature at home could have been useful. Some, for example had alcoholic parents. Others had unusual family backgrounds, such as parents who were immigrants, or mothers with demanding careers at time when this was less common.

An investigation at Montclair State University of women’s tested skills at detecting men who were pretending to have appealing attributes–sometimes called “faking good.” An example is a man claiming he owned the Ferrari outside, rather than admitting he had borrowed it from a friend for the night. The single women seemed to be better in detecting men who were faking good than those who were in a committed relationship. “Women,” says Julian Paul Keenan, leader of the research team, “have a kind of radar for deception in men, which they switch on and off, depending on the context.”

Mixing your genes with a man who borrows rather than owns a Ferrari could have serious implications. Becoming pregnant by a deceptive male could have “huge negative consequences,” Keenan points out.

His group also investigated what makes a good liar. This and other studies show evidence that people with higher self-awareness, as indicated by self-recognition, self-pronoun use, and self-conscious emotions were better deceivers.

How do you know if someone is lying to you? Bella de Paula of the University of California at Santa Barbara says there can be some tell-tale signs. Contrary to folklore, liars are not more fidgety, nor do they blink more or look less relaxed. Rather they tend to seem more nervous than truth-tellers in other ways. Their voices are pitched higher. And there is an association between lying and larger pupil size, a sign of tension and concentration. Other signs are becoming unusually still; making notably less eye contact with listeners; starting their answers more quickly than truth tellers; if taken by surprise, taking longer to start answering questions and talking less; seeming more negative than truth tellers–more complaining and less cooperative; tending to withhold information, either from guilt or to make it easier to get their stories straight; repeating words and phrases; sounding more discrepant and ambivalent; and telling stories that are less logical. There is a technique called content-based criteria analysis used by forensic scientists to analyze witness statements to work out if they are true or fabricated. True statements are supposed to include more superfluous details, spontaneous self-corrections and speculation about other people’s mental states. The truthful witness is also more likely to be self-deprecating and to make comments that go some way toward pardoning the alleged perpetrator

For those who wish to learn more about the subject of this piece, Persaud in his article also explores deception in animals, especially primates, as well as the tricks used by mediums, magicians and illusionists who give the appearance of mind-reading and thought control.

America’s Constitution

~Book Review~

America’s Constitution is a scholarly work by Akhil Amar a member of the Yale Law School faculty past 20-years. This ‘biography’ of our founding document explains not only what our constitution says but why it says it. For example the phrase, ‘to form a more perfect union,’ refers to the weak union of the Articles of Confederation under which the states exercised limited cooperation between 1776 and 1788 when New Hampshire became the 9th state to ratify the efforts of the Constitutional Convention. One reviewer says America’s Constitution is an indispensable work, bound to become a standard reference for any student of history and all citizens of the United States.

–Flo Wineriter

The Godless Constitution

~Book Review~

After the intense thinking and reflection stimulated by America’s Constitution it was refreshing to read The Godless Constitution, written by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore. This moral defense of the secular state is a much easier read and deals only with the historical efforts to declare the United States a Christian Nation. Did you know that in 1810 religious leaders demanded that the U.S. Postal Service stop delivering mail on Sundays? Their century plus campaign continued until 1912 when Congress closed for good all postal activities on Sundays.

The authors challenge secularists to recognize our serious moral problems and learn to speak passionately about solving them.

–Flo Wineriter

Speaking Freely

~Book Review~

Author Floyd Abrams, as a young attorney, became the lead counsel after the Washington Post’s legal firm (of 150 years standing) would not represent them; this was after the Post had printed excerpts of what became known as the “Pentagon Papers.”

This started Abrams on a career specializing in the protection of the First Amendment’s guaranteed protection of “Freedom of the Press.” A free press is not necessarily an accurate or wise one, but is necessary for democracy to occur.

The book ends with current First Amendment issues being discussed, including Justice Anthony Kennedy’s ruling “The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from government because speech is the beginning of thought.”

–Cindy King

Humanism as the Next Step

~Book Review~

If you are still stumped when friends ask you about humanism, this is the book for you. Authors Lloyd and Mary Morain have been humanist leaders for more than fifty years and have condensed the essence of our philosophy into a little more than 100 pages! The 3000 year history of humanist thinkers, basic beliefs of modern humanism, guidelines on living humanist principles today, it’s all here. The book includes the essay by Fred Edwords, “Humanist Philosophy in Perspective.”

Keep this book on your coffee table for a quick reference.

–Flo Wineriter

It Can’t Happen Here

~Book Review~

Sinclair Lewis, perhaps best known for his novels BabbitMain StreetElmer Gantry, and Aerosmith published It Can’t Happen Here in 1935. This is a chilling novel that seems uncannily similar to our current political situation. The story line is that FDR lost his bid for re-election in 1936 to a party that gave rise to the Corpo’s, a parallel movement to Communism in the Soviet Union, Nazism in Germany, and Fascism in Italy.

President Berzelius Windrip, supported by the Evangelical movement and enforced by his private Minute Man army (the MM’s,) announced on his inauguration day that his 15-Point Plan will take effect immediately. Congress convened and promptly rejected the new President’s ambitions. The MM’s marched and took those in Congress who voted against Buzz into “protective custody.”

It does not take long for Buzz to declare himself ruler (dictator) with the expressed goals of ridding America of welfare cheats, sex, crime, and the liberal press.

The story line develops around a liberal newspaper man who is beaten and jailed for his unwillingness to join the movement.

Here is a quick quote from the book: “More and more, as I think about history, I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.”

I hope that it really cannot happen here!

–Wayne Wilson

President’s Message

First, I must apologize to Julie Mayhew. At the Board retreat mentioned in last month’s newsletter, I neglected to thank her for being the facilitator. Her contribution to this effort was invaluable and the Board appreciates it greatly.

At the October Board meeting, we voted to change the by-laws slightly. In the first sentence of Section IV. A, it states, “The Association shall be governed by its membership and, between meetings thereof, by a board of directors consisting of a President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, and five other board members.” We propose to change the last part to read, “and up to five other board members.” We feel this is necessary because in an association of this size, it is often difficult to maintain the full compliment of board members. At the next general meeting we will ask for a vote on this change.

Our annual “Marion Craig Humanists of Utah Essay Contest” materials have been finalized and will be in the mail during the last week of October. Each year we have made a few changes in hopes of garnering more participation by high school students. I feel confident that this year we will have more involvement, as has been the case each year so far.

–Bob Lane

Fear Mongering

Herman Goering at his Nuremberg trial said: “The people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.”

Fear mongering is an especially effective way to incite violence. We must ever dedicate our lives to affirming the dignity of others, not through beliefs but through actions.

–Curt Collier
N.Y. Ethical Culture Leader

Basic Humanism

Humanism is concerned with the world of human existence, as it is known through human experience. What we are willing to say that we know about the universe in which we find ourselves, and the lives we find ourselves living, is based exclusively upon our own shared experience and reason.

Humanism begins with the premise that our human bodies and minds are the tools with which we must engage this world and our existence. Humanism invites us to grow up, to consider thoughtfully what might constitute a good life, a life worth living even in the face of certain death. It teaches that we are accountable, individually and collectively, for what we make of ourselves and our world.

NACH Newsletter June 2005
Kendyl Gibbons
Co-dean The Humanist Institute

Humanist Humor

  • I am an agnostic pagan. I doubt the existence of many gods.
  • A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender says, “What is this, some kind of joke?”
  • And on the 8th day God said, OK Murphy, you take over.
  • Atheist achieving orgasm: Oh Random! Oh Chance!
  • Blessed are the Fundamentalists, for they shall inhibit the earth.
  • If money is the root of all evil, why do churches want it so badly?
  • That was Zen. This is Tao. Sects, sects, sects. Is that all you monks ever think about?

From, October 11, 2005