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Intention related spontaneous thought as a cue to distinguish truth tellers from liars

Conference contribution
Authors Erik Mac Giolla
Pär-Anders Granhag
Karl Ask
Published in 9th Meeting of the Nordic Network for Research On Psychology and Law, Aarhus, Denmark.
Publication year 2013
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Subject categories Cognitive science


The current study highlights a novel approach to the study of true and false intentions by focusing on spontaneous thoughts. Passed research shows that future tasks produce task-related spontaneous thoughts. Based on this, we proposed that truth tellers should experience task related spontaneous thoughts to a higher degree than liars, since only those with a true intention have a genuine future task. We examined this in two experiments. In Experiment 1truth tellers were given a task to perform. The Liars’ goal was to lie about their intentions to perform the task. Subsequently, all participants recorded message of intent—the message was the truth tellers’ stated true intention and the liars’ stated false intention. Following this, but before truth tellers performed their task (carried out their intention), participants performed a distraction task and subsequently reported their level of intention-related spontaneous thought during the distraction task. Results showed that truth tellers had spontaneous thoughts more often and found these thoughts more distracting than liars. Experiment 2 sought to extend these findings in two important ways: first by having a larger pre-action phase (between 1-2 weeks); and second by having a police styled interview. During the interview questions on spontaneous thoughts were deployed as unanticipated questions in an attempt to distinguish between truth tellers and liars. We are currently in the process of collecting data for this study. The results of Experiment 1 are promising, however, the applied value of the approach will rest primarily on the results of Experiment 2.

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