It’s Easier to Lie in a Foreign Language

A new study suggests that it may be easier for people to lie in their second language than in their native tongue. The study, titled "The language of lies: Behavioral and autonomic costs of lying in a native compared to a foreign language." in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, evaluated participants in their native and non-native languages. Unlike previous studies that evaluated only the perceived trustworthiness of participants when communicating in their native and non-native languages, this study monitored participants to gauge physical differences when lying and telling the truth in their native and non-native languages.

In the study, 50 participants were asked a number of questions where they would respond both truthfully and deceptively. Researchers monitored their response time, heart rate, and amount of sweat. The scientists found the following:

  1. It takes longer to answer any question in a second language (which is to be expected).
  2. It takes longer to answer emotional questions than non-emotional ones.
  3. It typically takes longer to lie than to tell the truth.

The difference between native and non-native language happens when it comes to the difference in how long it takes to answer truthfully or with a lie. For a native speaker, there is a larger and more pronounced difference between the amount of time it takes to answer truthfully or with a lie. In a second language, however, the amount of time it takes to tell a lie and tell the truth is relatively similar. This is partly attributed to the fact that it takes longer to answer questions that have emotion. Since there is a larger perceived emotional load when answering truthfully, it takes longer to answer. Lying, on the other hand, takes a higher cognitive load, which researchers believe "cancels out" the emotional load, making the response times similar.

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