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Barefaced Lies in Barren Rooms: Deception is Less Successful in Impoverished Environments

Have you ever wondered why police interrogation rooms are so barren and sterile? Making suspects feel uncomfortable and powerless may actually make them worse at lying. A recent article published by Leanne ten Brinke (postdoctoral scholar at Haas), Poruz Khambatta (PhD stuent at Stanford University), and Dr. Dana Carney (Associate Professor at Haas) examines the effect of environment on the success of deception. In a series of three studies, the researchers found that liars in scarce environments (for example, the barren office pictured above) are more likely to leak the behaviors that indicate they are lying. Some of these behaviors include the use of fewer words, speaking more slowly and with more hesitations, a demeanor of “thinking hard” and being uncooperative, and displaying more fake smiles. 

Of course, revealing these deception-indicative behaviors might not matter if other people can't pick up on them. However, ten Brinke and colleagues showed this was not the case; in Study 3, naive perceivers were better and identifying lies told by people in a barren environment. 

For more information on Leanne ten Brinke's research, including this article and her other publications, visit her website here.


ten Brinke, L., Khambatta, P., & Carney, D. R. (2015). Physically scarce (vs. enriched) environments decrease the ability to tell lies successfully. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(5), 982-992.