Sorry, Etta James. It turns out trust is relative.
A recent study has found that gender plays an integral role in people’s perceived level of trust. Researcher Marilyn Boltz and her team published a paper in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology that looked at how gender and speech patterns affect our opinion of how trustworthy a person is.
“We found that people perceive women to lie less than men and that they perceive men and women to tell different kinds of lies,” said Boltz.
The study had participants listen to a preprepared conversation between “Jim” and “Claire,” who have ostensibly been dating for some time. They were then asked to determine whether the couple’s responses were authentic or not.
A sample exchange would go something like this:
Jim: Were you happy with the steak?
Claire: Yeah, it was really good. Was it your own recipe for the marinade?
Jim: Yeah, it was. It’s one I’ve been trying to perfect over the years.
The results found that perceived trust was highly dependent on the timing of speech. If either Jim or Claire took longer than normal to respond, it caused suspicions to arise. (The same held true for responses that were answered too quickly.)
But the notable part of the results was that people expect men and women to lie differently. Women are called out for “other-lies”—that is, lies for the sake of others. (See: Claire’s compliment about the steak above.)
In contrast, men were under more suspect for “self-lies” or lies that benefit the liar. For instance, Jim’s claim that the recipe is something he’s been “trying to perfect for years.”
The percentage of participants who believed Claire was telling the truth tanked from a high of 86 percent to a low of 16 percent when she responded late and spoke quickly while telling a potential other-lie. Jim’s believers dropped from a high of 77 percent to a low of 14 percent when he told a potential self-lie in the same style.
We’re most suspicious, Boltz explains, when men might be indulging their self-serving side.
Now just to be clear: this doesn’t mean that women or men are more likely to lie in these ways. It simply means that the vast majority of people expect them to. After all, doesn’t it make sense that our ideas of femininity and masculinity govern our expectations and unconscious trust?
We as species are socially trained to narrow in on certain habits in certain genders. Here’s Daniel Madonia, a “deception expert” and head of the company NeuroVelocity:
The skills are both conscious and unconscious. Consciously we can learn some tips and tricks for what might be signs of lying, while unconsciously we rely on our instincts and learn to hone them.
But researchers warn that this could be a very bad idea, unless you know the person you’re speaking to quite well. And even then it’s a bit of a crapshoot.
Here’s Boltz again on the matter:
You can train people to some extent, but still it’s very difficult to have a human lie detector, just because there are so many factors that can influence one’s behavior. In general, you find that people are not very good at detecting deception.