Science project

True or False? The Lying Experiment

Difficulty Level




Safety Issues

Adult supervision required when dealing with volunteers.

Project Time Frame

2-4 weeks


This project explores the human behavior known as lying.

Project Goals
  • To define lying in general, and to categorize types of lies.  
  • To see how well people can tell when other people are lying.
  • To encourage more realistic discussions on the ethics of lying, not to mention its countless practical uses.

Materials and Equipment

  • Computer with internet access
  • Digital video camera (or mobile phone video camera)
  • Typical office/craft supplies (such as paper, pens & poster-board)


Simply put, a lie is any deliberately misleading action (or inaction), spoken or unspoken.  Lying is a loaded gun.  People say it’s wrong, and yet everyone does it.  We’re taught that honesty is the best policy, and yet we all believe that there are such things as “good” lies.  How good are we at the lying game?

Research Questions
  • Why do people lie?
  • Why are the benefits and disadvantages of lying?
  • Do lie detectors really work?
  • Can we tell when someone is lying?  If so, how?
Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research
  • Familiarity with computers and video software.
  • A basic knowledge of statistics would be helpful.

Experimental Procedure

  1. Read overviews of relevant topics (see bibliography).
  2. Design a list of five simple questions like “How old are you?” or “What is 2+2?”
  3. Recruit volunteers who don’t mind being filmed.  
  4. Instruct some volunteers to lie, and others to tell the truth.  All lies must be close enough to the truth to be believable.  For instance, a 38-year old man can give his age as 37.  
  5. Film volunteers answering the questions.
  6. Get as many people as you can to participate in this test:  Show the film (with the questions edited out so only the answers are viewed), and have viewers try to guess whether each person on the film is lying or telling the truth.
  7. Score viewers based on percentage of correct answers.
  8. Analyze the data.
  9. Interpret findings in a detailed report.
  10. Show results visually using charts and graphs.
  11. Display relevant photos taken throughout the course of the experiment.


  1. Wikipedia articles:  “Lie” and “Lie Detector
  2. Conceptual Statistics for Beginners (Newman, Isadore & Carol, 2005 reprint)
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