Boise State psychology professor Charles Honts spoke at the third consecutive TEDx Boise event on Saturday, April 8, to share his research in deception detection.
“Truth and deception, lying and telling the truth and knowing the difference between the two, is something I think about a lot,” Honts said as he began his presentation.
Honts was selected to be one of the 11 speakers to present an idea at the program, where he shared information about his work with polygraph testing and the Innocence Project.
This TEDx event—the “x” signifying it is one of many independently organized versions of a TED event—brought together local individuals to share a project or idea they are passionate about, according to the TEDx Boise website. Greg Hampikian—professor in the Departments of Biological Science and Criminal Justice—participated in TEDx Boise last year and recommended Honts apply to speak as well. Honts found out in November 2016 he was one of 40 finalists chosen to audition.
Honts has been working with polygraph testing since 1976. He worked with the Innocence Project off and on since about 1995 to help individuals put in prison on false charges.
During his talk, Honts discussed the case of Jeffrey Deskovic—a 16-year-old who was wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering a classmate, as an example. After serving 16 years in prison, DNA from the crime was tested, and he was proven innocent.
“Here’s a young man who told the truth to the police and he was not believed,” Honts said. “And then he lied to the police—he gave a false confession—and he was believed.”
Deskovic was interrogated by the police for over six hours. He was then lied to by the officers and told if he confessed, he would get the help he needed—not be put in prison. He falsely confessed to the crime in order to be relieved of the stressful situation, according to Honts.
“That would be tragedy enough—if it was just Jefferey—but it’s not just Jeffrey. From the Innocence Project, we know there have been quite a number of wrongfully convicted people. About one out of four them wrongfully confessed to a crime they didn’t commit—so this is not an isolated event,” Honts said.
Along with issues within the legal system, Honts told the audience about how frequently people lie to each other on a daily basis. Statistics show in one fourth of 10-minute-long conversations, people will lie about something, according to Honts.
Honts said these common lies—which are usually not harmful in nature—wouldn’t be as impactful if people were better at detecting when they were being lied to in a conversation. However, Honts said people generally only can detect lies 54 percent of the time.
Megan Fadely, who works at Advantage Solutions in Boise, attended TEDx Boise after watching several TED Talks online. She found Honts’ presentation very intriguing, as it contradicted a lot of the ways lie detection is presented on TV.
“It was interesting to know we’re really bad at detecting (lies),” Fadely said. “It’s interesting to know there’s a lot of technology and stuff going into (lie detection). I feel media nowadays definitely contorts our ideas on how we can anticipate lying.”
Though expensive lie detection equipment exists—and has proven to be accurate in lab settings—the cost and time to administer such tests has hindered its use in the field, according to Honts. Research is still being conducted in order to improve the methods of lie detection. Honts advised people to remember that the content of someone’s speech is more important than how it is said.
“Don’t believe anything just because you want to believe that it’s true, or because you are afraid it’s true,” Honts said.