Insecurity Impacts Your Ability to Detect Dishonesty

“Where were you last night?” you ask your significant other. The answer, “At the office” is unconvincing. But why?  Does your partner simply “look guilty?”  Is paranoia coloring your perception?  Are you making your partner defensive through your expression, demeanor, and accusatory tone of voice? 

The vicious cycle of distrust-cultivated-defensiveness can be responsible for a multitude of misunderstandings between couples.  If you are suspicious, viewing your partner as “innocent until proven guilty” gives him or her the benefit of the doubt, and allows you to maintain perspective.  The first order of business after you have accepted the presumption of innocence, is determining whether your own insecurities are fueling your suspicions–or have they given you an advantage?

Anxiety Fueled Deceit Detection

A study by Ein-Dor and Perry entitled, “Full House of Fears,” (2014) testing the ability to detect cheating when playing poker, indicates that attachment anxiety, although not other types of anxiety, increases the ability to detect deceit.[i]  They explain that attachment anxiety, defined as anxiety stemming from abandonment and separation, is linked with hyper vigilance and sensitivity toward threat related cues.

A more recent study by ten Brinke et al. entitled “Can Ordinary People Detect Deception After All?” (2016) indicates that feeling threatened or distressed enhances the ability to detect lies.[ii]

Other research links insecurity to both detecting, and deceiving.  

Sometimes It Takes One to Know One

In two separate studies, Ein-Dor et al. in “It takes an insecure liar to catch a liar: the link between attachment insecurity, deception, and detection of deception” (2017), found that people better at cheating in a card game were also better at detecting other cheaters, and that unfaithful romantic partners were better infidelity detectors than their faithful counterparts.[iii]  They found that good cheaters and liars, usually insecure people, are better lie detectors.

Ein-Dor et al. (2017) corroborated earlier research by noting that attachment anxiety emerged as the trait that enhances the ability to both tell and detect lies.  They explain that social defense theory holds that people with increased anxiety about abandonment and separation can more quickly and accurately detect interpersonal deceit.

Message Medium and Motivation

Is it easier to detect lies when you are motivated to do so?  Unfortunately, the answer appears to be no.  A study by Wu et al. entitled ”Motivation Enhances the Ability to Detect Truth from Deception in Audio-only Messages” (2015) demonstrates that motivation to detect deception impairs the ability to do so when examining statements through an audio-visual medium.[iv]  They note that research testing the influence of motivation on judging audio-only messages (using monetary reward to manipulate motivation) found motivation correlated positively with truth-accuracy judgments, but not with rates of lie-accuracy.

Wu et al. note that motivation also affects liars themselves.  They explain that the motivation impairment effect makes it easier for less motivated liars to deceive others through nonverbal behavior, and easier for highly motivated liars to deceive through verbal content.  In other words, they explain that highly motivated liars are better deceivers verbally than nonverbally.

Relational Security Enhances Relational Satisfaction

The bottom line is that our personal biases and insecurities may color our perceptions of another person´s veracity, whether we are looking or listening.  Although hopefully you were selective when choosing your partner in the first place, there will still be times that you will be skeptical.  As trust grows over time, so will your sense of relational security, which will enhance your ability to confidently trust what you hear and see.

About the author:

Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor and behavioral expert.  She is the author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House). 

She lectures around the world on judging credibility, sexual assault prevention, and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own. 

Find her at or @WendyPatrickPhD

Find a full listing of Dr. Patrick´s Psychology Today posts at

[i] Tsachi Ein-Dor and Adi Perry, “Full House of Fears: Evidence That People High in Attachment Anxiety Are More Accurate in Detecting Deceit,” Journal of Personality Vol. 82, No. 2 (2014): 83-92.

[ii] Leanne ten Brinke, Kathleen D. Vohs, and Dana R. Carney, ”Can Ordinary People Detect Deception After All?” Trends in Cognitive Sciences Vol. 20, No. 8 (August 2016): 579-588 (585).

[iii] Tsachi Ein-Dor, Adi Perry-Paldi, Karin Zohar-Cohen, Yaniv Efrati, and Gilad Hirschberger, ”It takes an insecure liar to catch a liar: the link between attachment insecurity, deception, and detection of deception,” Personality and Individual Differences Vol. 113 (2017): 81-87.

[iv] Song Wu, Wei Cai, and Shenghua Jin, ”Motivation Enhances the Ability to Detect Truth from Deception in Audio-only Messages,” Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling Vol. 12 (2015): 119-126.


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