By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Jurors and judges sit in court and evaluate credibility. They continuously assess who is telling the truth and who isn't. But what is the bias in those determinations? Lie detection itself is a notoriously uncertain ability, with confidence often high, but with actual ability tending to hover more around the coin-flip level. But independent of accuracy, our beliefs about lie detection can tell us something about bias. Based on some recent research, it tells us something about racial bias and, more specifically, about the bias we bring to the task of telling whether witnesses of a different race are telling the truth or not.
The research (Lloyd et al., 2017) appears in the journal Psychological Science and is covered in a ScienceDaily release. The article is entitled "Black and White Lies: Race-Based Biases in Deception Judgments," and reports on a series of experiments involving 605 research participants. The participants watched videos of Black and White individuals, some telling the truth and some lying. As they watched the videos, two boxes appeared on the screen: "Truth" and "Lie," and participants simply made a judgement and clicked the appropriate box as they watched. In some versions of the study, the monitors were equipped with eye-tracking technology so that the researchers could tell which box the participants focused on first and foremost before choosing one to click. After watching videos, participants completed a survey on their attitudes toward fairness and prejudice, rating their level of agreement or disagreement with statements like, "It is important to my self-concept to be nonprejudiced toward Black people." The results of the study carry two important implications for lawyers trying to identify or adapt to biases in the courtroom: Bias statements aren't necessarily reliable and can be prone to overcorrection.