D is for… Deception

The Psychologist A to Z continues.

Suggested by Fiona Almond, Visiting Fellow at the Ways of War Centre, University of Reading, and a research manager in the civil service (@Fiona_Almond)

‘Deception is intriguing… it can be deliberate or inadvertent, large or small scale (think military tactics or a magician), it’s evident throughout history, but still very contemporary (fake news!); it’s both a topic for psychological study, and sometimes even a method used in studies.’

In his very honest June 2015 article, neurosurgeon Henry Marsh confessed ‘It was difficult to escape the conclusion that my self-esteem relied on self-deception, a self-deception in part driven and supported by my patients’ need to believe in me.’

‘All psychological research is deceptive in some respects’, concluded Allan Kimmel in his August 2011 piece for us.

The 2016 Ig Nobel prize for psychology was won by a study asking a thousand liars how often they lie, and for deciding whether to believe them. ‘Paltering’ is using a truthful statement to create a misleading impression. According to research covered by Alex Fradera on our Research Digest in January, ‘perpetrators can enjoy a sense of plausible deniability… but the harm they cause to their relationships is no less palpable.’

We psychologists are often accused of messing with people’s minds, and in 2016 research led by Jay Olson and covered by guest blogger Vaughan Bell on our Research Digest, psychologists used a cocktail of magic and fMRI to ‘implant’ thoughts.

- Tweet your thoughts on this topic, and suggestions for any letter, to @psychmag using the hashtag #PsychAtoZ or email the editor on jon.sutton@bps.org.uk

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