Emotional intelligence and spotting lies

People who rate themselves as having high emotional intelligence (EI) tend to overestimate their ability to detect deception in others. This is the finding of a paper published today in the journal Legal and Criminological Psychology.

Professor Stephen Porter, director of the Centre for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law at University of British Columbia, Canada, along with colleagues Dr. Leanne ten Brinke and Alysha Baker used a standard questionnaire to measure the EI of 116 participants.

These participants were then asked to view 20 videos from around the world of people pleading for the safe return of a missing family member. In half the videos the person making the plea was responsible for the missing person's disappearance or murder.

The participants were asked to judge whether the pleas were honest or deceptive, say how much confidence they had in their judgements, report the cues they had used to make those judgements and rate their emotional response to each plea.

Professor Porter found that higher EI was associated with overconfidence in assessing the sincerity of the pleas and sympathetic feelings towards people in the videos who turned out to be responsible for the disappearance.

Although EI, in general, was not associated with being better or worse at discriminating between truths and lies, people with a higher ability to perceive and express emotion (a component of EI) were not so good at spotting when people were telling lies. 

Professor Porter says:  “Taken together, these findings suggest that features of emotional intelligence, and the decision-making processes they lead to, may have the paradoxical effect of impairing people's ability to detect deceit. 

“This finding is important because EI is a well-accepted concept and is used in a variety of domains, including the workplace.”

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