How to reduce self-deception:

This study examined a particular type of self-deception but I’m guessing that as a general rule of thumb being more specific might help in the battle against self-deception. In fact, the name of the paper this abstract comes from is “Self-deception requires vagueness.”

The paper sets out to reveal conditions enabling diagnostic self-deception, people’s tendency to deceive themselves about the diagnostic value of their own actions. We characterize different types of self-deception in terms of the distinction between intervention and observation in causal reasoning. One type arises when people intervene but choose to view their actions as observations in order to find support for a self-serving diagnosis. We hypothesized that such self-deception depends on imprecision in the environment that allows leeway to represent one’s own actions as either observations or interventions. Four experiments tested this idea using a dot-tracking task. Participants were told to go as quickly as they could and that going fast indicated either above-average or below-average intelligence. Precision was manipulated by varying the vagueness in feedback about performance. As predicted, self-deception was observed only when feedback on the task used vague terms rather than precise values. The diagnosticity of the feedback did not matter.

Source: “Self-deception requires vagueness” from Cognition, Volume 115, Issue 2, May 2010, Pages 268-281

For identifying lies others tell you, read this book. To be more influential yourself (without actually lying) you should check out the book that’s here. I also recommend the author’s more recent release Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.

For more on lying and deception, check out this episode of the consistently excellent Radiolab.

I’ve posted a lot about the science of lie detection. Check out my digest of things you didn’t know about lies, liars and detecting lies.

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