Research Topic

Debating the Existence and Benefit of Unconscious Lie Detection

About this Research Topic

Lying is a deceptive behaviour that is at play in all aspects of social life. Its occurrence has great import for policing, negotiations, human intelligence gathering, and many other domains where one person may want to conceal true information from another. In this context, the ability to detect lies is an essential skill. While most research indicates that people are inaccurate lie detectors, substantial debate remains around the role that the unconscious plays. Some authors have argued that people are sensitive to deception on an unconscious level, while others have argued that the unconscious merely makes us more gullible. Others yet argue there is no role for the unconscious.

Such debates raise fundamental issues about the extent to which our decisions are influenced by unconscious factors, including judgments of honesty. Should we take it that all such influences can be explained away by methodological artifacts or by biased conscious processing, or is it the case that lie detection accuracy improves when the conscious mind is otherwise engaged (e.g., through hypnosis or distraction)? Or does distracting the mind lead to a tendency to over-believe and potentially decrease accuracy?

We stand at a crossroads on a fundamental concern in cognition: does the unconscious exist, and can it influence judgments? The aim of this Research Topic is thus to invite theory-driven and experimental contributions that explore whether the unconscious plays a role in lie detection.

This Research Topic will debate these issues through a set of target articles and commentaries. Target article submissions may take the following form:

• A Hypothesis and Theory article that builds on unconscious research across psychological disciplines (Melnikoff, D. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2018). The mythical number two. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22, 280-293. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2018.02.001).

• A Perspective article that discusses current advances and future directions in unconscious lie detection (Street, C. N. H., & Vadillo, M. A. (2016). Can the unconscious boost lie-detection accuracy? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24, 246-250. doi: 10.1177/0963721416656348).

• A Review or Systematic Review article that develops novel insights into unconscious processing (Bond, C. F., Levine, T. R., & Hartwig, M. (2015). New findings in nonverbal lie detection. In P. A. Granhag, A. Vrij, & B. Verschuere (Eds.), Detecting deception: Current challenges and cognitive approaches (pp. 37-58). Chichester: Wiley).

•An Original Article testing clearly defined predictions of a theory of unconscious cognition (see for example Reinhard, M.-A., Greifeneder, R., & Scharmach, M. (2013). Unconscious processes improve lie detection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 721-739. doi: 10.1037/a0034352)

Target article submissions of all forms should produce clearly defined and testable predictions that relate to the existence of the unconscious and its impact on lie detection judgments. Original Articles should rely on published theory in order to generate hypotheses, and not build ad-hoc theories to account for their findings.

Although we aim to include contributions on unconscious and automatic processing from across different psychological domains, it is expected that articles will give some consideration to how their work relates to lie detection.

After publication of the first accepted target article, an open call will be made for commentaries on the target articles in the form of either an Opinion or General Commentary. The author(s) of the target article will be invited to respond to the commentaries in either a single article or one article each.

We are keen to encourage submissions from both sides of this debate. Target articles and commentaries are strongly encouraged to consider their claims in light of arguments likely to be made by those critical of their position.


Keywords: Unconscious, Lie detection, Deception, Theory, Social Cognition


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Lying is a deceptive behaviour that is at play in all aspects of social life. Its occurrence has great import for policing, negotiations, human intelligence gathering, and many other domains where one person may want to conceal true information from another. In this context, the ability to detect lies is an essential skill. While most research indicates that people are inaccurate lie detectors, substantial debate remains around the role that the unconscious plays. Some authors have argued that people are sensitive to deception on an unconscious level, while others have argued that the unconscious merely makes us more gullible. Others yet argue there is no role for the unconscious.

Such debates raise fundamental issues about the extent to which our decisions are influenced by unconscious factors, including judgments of honesty. Should we take it that all such influences can be explained away by methodological artifacts or by biased conscious processing, or is it the case that lie detection accuracy improves when the conscious mind is otherwise engaged (e.g., through hypnosis or distraction)? Or does distracting the mind lead to a tendency to over-believe and potentially decrease accuracy?

We stand at a crossroads on a fundamental concern in cognition: does the unconscious exist, and can it influence judgments? The aim of this Research Topic is thus to invite theory-driven and experimental contributions that explore whether the unconscious plays a role in lie detection.

This Research Topic will debate these issues through a set of target articles and commentaries. Target article submissions may take the following form:

• A Hypothesis and Theory article that builds on unconscious research across psychological disciplines (Melnikoff, D. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2018). The mythical number two. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22, 280-293. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2018.02.001).

• A Perspective article that discusses current advances and future directions in unconscious lie detection (Street, C. N. H., & Vadillo, M. A. (2016). Can the unconscious boost lie-detection accuracy? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24, 246-250. doi: 10.1177/0963721416656348).

• A Review or Systematic Review article that develops novel insights into unconscious processing (Bond, C. F., Levine, T. R., & Hartwig, M. (2015). New findings in nonverbal lie detection. In P. A. Granhag, A. Vrij, & B. Verschuere (Eds.), Detecting deception: Current challenges and cognitive approaches (pp. 37-58). Chichester: Wiley).

•An Original Article testing clearly defined predictions of a theory of unconscious cognition (see for example Reinhard, M.-A., Greifeneder, R., & Scharmach, M. (2013). Unconscious processes improve lie detection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 721-739. doi: 10.1037/a0034352)

Target article submissions of all forms should produce clearly defined and testable predictions that relate to the existence of the unconscious and its impact on lie detection judgments. Original Articles should rely on published theory in order to generate hypotheses, and not build ad-hoc theories to account for their findings.

Although we aim to include contributions on unconscious and automatic processing from across different psychological domains, it is expected that articles will give some consideration to how their work relates to lie detection.

After publication of the first accepted target article, an open call will be made for commentaries on the target articles in the form of either an Opinion or General Commentary. The author(s) of the target article will be invited to respond to the commentaries in either a single article or one article each.

We are keen to encourage submissions from both sides of this debate. Target articles and commentaries are strongly encouraged to consider their claims in light of arguments likely to be made by those critical of their position.


Keywords: Unconscious, Lie detection, Deception, Theory, Social Cognition


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

10 January 2019 Abstract
30 April 2019 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

10 January 2019 Abstract
30 April 2019 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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