Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Predicting Dishonesty When the Stakes are High: Physiologic Responses During Face-to-Face interactions identifies who Reneges on Promises to Cooperate”, by Zak, P. J.; Barraza, J. A.; Hu, X.; Zahedzadeh, G. and Murraya, J. (2022), in which the authors carry out an experiment where the subjects participate in a financial game, plus, they try to obtain evidence that there are some physiological changes that, according to previous literature, are produced in the body when one lies.
We already know that communication and face-to-face interactions can influence the decisions we make, due to multiple non-verbal factors and even of a different nature that can activate stereotypes, such as gender, clothing, tattoos, attractiveness…
This is especially important in strategic and negotiation cases, where communication can increase each other’s understanding and strengthen cooperation, improving outcomes for both parties.
In addition, a very important fact is that the interactions prior to making decisions, the innocent or banal talks, also influence the strategic process. It is believed that, for the most part, they can increase cooperation.
Even so, we must take into account, in this era in which telematic meetings replace face-to-face meetings, that this influence of communication occurs much more easily in face-to-face meetings and not so much in remote meetings.
However, the opportunities to communicate also provide the opportunity to deceive and cheat. Deception and manipulation are the key of many strategic interactions, including military operations, negotiations, or even playing poker.
But there’s bad news for liars: concealment and distortion require extra cognitive effort. Deception involves several cognitive processes that are very costly, for example, the use of working memory and response inhibition. Physiological arousal, anxiety during communication, pupil dilation, among others, are signs associated with deception.
In addition, stress levels can be measured because the hormones associated with it increase their presence in the blood, so if lying causes stress, it could be found out when it is happening by observing the level of these hormones in our body.
From an evolutionary perspective, it is believed that creatures that live in groups, such as humans, have had to develop physiological mechanisms to identify individuals that are likely to cooperate with the group or not.
Some of these mechanisms may be consciously recognizable, such as the Duchenne smile. Others are only perceived unconsciously.
Authors’ intentions with this study were to assess the trust between adults who communicate face to face before participating in a game where, in pairs, and if they cooperate, they can win a significant amount of money.
75 subjects participated in the experiment. They had to participate in the so-called “trust game”. In it, software assigned pairs and a role to each of the two people in each pair. Player 1 had to transfer an amount of money to player 2, which would come from his own reserve. What was transferred to player 2 would be multiplied by a certain value. Player 2 would be notified of the amount received and should return to player 1 one quantity that would not be multiplied. If the cooperation between the two of them was good, he could earn up to $500.
Experts point out that the transfer from player 1 to player 2 measures trust, while the transfer from player 2 to player 1 measures trustworthiness.
However, the most interesting thing about this experiment is that the players had a chat for a couple of minutes before participating in the game. They were told that they could discuss a strategy to follow between them, although it was not mandatory.
The results obtained suggested that, although almost all the conversations between the pairs of the game resulted in a cooperative commitment, approximately one third of the players did not keep their promises. The initial hypothesis that researchers had was that high levels of stress hormones would be observed in those who lied. By measuring hormone levels before and after the interaction, it was seen how those who had lied had an increase in this type of hormone in their blood.
Additionally, when players lied, they reported, in post-game self-reports, increased negative emotions, revealing the psychological cost of cheating.
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