I am currently reading the book The Best American Science Writing 2007, and in it was an article about lie detecting by Robin Marantz Henig entitled Looking for the lie that was published in the New York Times Magazine. (Just so you know, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that polygraphs can detect lies at very high accuracy.)
Towards the end of her piece, Henig discusses some of the evolutionary implications pertaining to deception and the development of the brain. Advanced social interactions are complex and often deception needs to be part of the equation and might be somewhat related to skills that make individuals socially adapted and intelligent.
This idea is interesting because it would explain a lot of the selfish behavior that we see in humans today. Social groups that are small enough may not suffer as much from serious deceptive offences, though they definitely have their share of gossiping, etc.
But as social groups get bigger, relationships are not as much defined by kinship but by association and profession. Being able to lie or deceive may have become adaptive in these settings where it would be the difference between gaining an advantage over a competitor or getting the short end of the stick.
Henig explores the possibility that having a proven lie detector technology may not be desirable to continue living comfortably as society functions now. She discusses the spectrum of lies from harmless to malicious and how lying is not all bad. This reminded me of an episode of the manga and anime series “Kino’s Journey,” where Kino comes to a country where all the people live alone in their own houses because years ago they acquired the ability to read other peoples thoughts. It is an interesting and spot-on portrayal of how humans could ruin things if all thoughts were revealed.
The research going into lie detection is quite fascinating, as are the ethical and moral implications behind it. One researcher has nailed down a system of recognizing facial and vocal cues to tell when people are lying that is 95% accurate. He does, however, have a rule that he doesn’t use his ability to out his family and friends when they are lying to him. I wonder if I would be able to restrain myself if I had the same capabilities!
Flickr user Elia Diodati