Curious if someone in your life is a good liar? According to one expert, you can find out the answer in less than 5 seconds.
A video from Richard Wiseman, a professor at the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K., alleges that in a matter of moments, anyone can discern if someone is a good liar with a simple test.
Just ask a person to use her dominant index finger to draw a Q on her forehead. If the tail swings to the left, so that someone else can read the Q, the person has revealed that she’s focused on others (an extrovert) and likely adept at dishonesty, the video claims. If the tail swoops to the right, so that the Q is legible to herself, she’s probably more self-focused and a terrible liar.
While it seems like a cool party trick — the video, which resurfaced this week after it was originally posted in January of 2014, has been viewed over 4.6 million times — is there any truth to this task?
“Lying is not easy to detect,” says Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at Temple University. “Catching a liar by the techniques in the video is not precise.”
Even though it’s tricky to sniff out liars, there is some research to support that how a person draws a letter on his or her forehead can predict self-perception.
Adam Galinsky, now the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business at Columbia Business School, and his colleagues famously tested this technique in 2008 while examining how people perceive themselves when they feel powerful or powerless.
In one experiment, Galinsky asked half of his 57 subjects to write an essay about a time when they felt powerful; the other half wrote of a time when they felt less power. Subjects then read a set of instructions that they believed would test their coordination. In the first task, participants used their dominant hands to snap five times as quickly as possible. In the second, they used their dominant hands to write an E on their forehead with a marker.
Those who wrote about moments of high power more often wrote the E so that a person facing them would see a backwards E, indicating self-focus. They thought only about how they’d see the letter, not others. Those who wrote about times of low power wrote the E the opposite way, so that a person facing would see it correctly. The people remembering powerful situations were three times more likely to write the E backwards, suggesting that those who feel powerful might be less able to bend to other people's perspectives.
While Farley says those results are interesting, he cautions against putting too much stock in the letter test. One day a person might feel self-focused and write the letter incorrectly, while the next day a more outward-thinking attitude could lead to writing the letter correctly.
“There is no ‘sure-fire’ way to tell if someone is other-focused or self-focused, but the Galinsky … procedures might provide a little help,” Farley says.
Even though these tests don’t provide a definitive way to spot a good liar, looking for answers in tests like this seems like a human thing to do, Farley says.
“We want to know ourselves,” he says. “[W]e seek out psychology because of our thirst to understand ourselves and others, to be successful, and to give meaning to life.”
This story was originally published on March 13 at 4:38 p.m.