Age-Related Differences in Deception

Relevance: Understanding age-related differences in lie detection ability could offer insight as to which age group is more susceptible to falling for fraud pitches.

Summary: An interesting question in deception research is whether lying and lie detection ability change with age.  On one hand, both lying and the ability to spot a lie may improve with age due to greater experience. On the other hand, the ability to lie and to detect lies may decrease with age due to cognitive decline. This study addresses the question by comparing younger and older adults’ abilities to lie as judged by both younger and older listeners. Additionally, in order to learn about the specific processes that may account for age-related differences in deception, the researchers tested the listeners’ ability to identify emotion and to estimate age in facial recognition tasks.  In the study, 30 young adults (17 to 26) and 30 older adults (60-89) judged the veracity of opinion statements made by 10 young adults (<30) and 10 older adults (>60).

Key findings of the study include:

  • Older adults were relatively transparent in that both young and older listeners found it easier to differentiate truths from lies in older adult speakers.
  • Older adults were worse than younger adults in differentiating truths from lies by both younger and older speakers.
  • Emotion recognition, but not age recognition, from facial cues is related to lie detection ability.

The researchers conclude that it is easier for people to discern when an older adult is lying or telling the truth compared with a young adult. In other words, older adults are worse liars. Regarding lie detection, the researchers conclude that older adults have more difficulty differentiating lies from truths than do younger adults. In other words, older adults are also worse lie detectors. Additionally, the study suggests that the decline in lie detection ability with age is related to a decline in emotional recognition.

Author Abstract: Young and older participants judged the veracity of young and older speakers’ opinions about topical issues. All participants found it easier to judge when an older adult was lying relative to a young adult, and older adults were worse than young adults at telling when speakers were telling the truth versus lying. Neither young nor older adults were advantaged when judging a speaker from the same age group. Overall, older adults were more transparent as liars and were worse at detecting lies, with older adults’ worse emotion recognition fully mediating the relation between age group and lie detection failures.

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