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Answer the questions quickly... so you don't look like a liar!

Répondre vite aux questions pour ne pas passer pour un menteur
Published on
14 May 2021

Assessing how trustworthy others are is an integral part of our social interactions. Recent research by The American Psychological Association shows that the speed of a response to a question is an important indicator by which people assume the credibility of the speaker. How to not look like a liar when you simply thinking of a response?

Ignazio Ziano is a professor and researcher in the marketing department at Grenoble Ecole de Management, specializing in consumer psychology. A psychologist by trade and with a doctorate in marketing, he is the co-author of a groundbreaking study, Slow Lies: Response delays promote perceptions of insincerity, conducted with D. Wang, James Cook University, Singapore, and published in February 2021 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Your research points out that when we pause - even for a few seconds - before answering a question, our answer is perceived as less credible than if we had answered immediately. Why is this a subject of study?

Our research is based on a series of studies previously conducted in the field of consumer social psychology. We were first interested in the effects of our behaviors, including our choices, on others. In other words, what others think when they observe us. Because, in fact, many factors have an impact on the judgment that others make of us. For example: in 2018, we published an article that pointed out that a person who chooses a product favored by a majority of individuals, will be perceived as smarter than a person who buys a product chosen by a minority.

What were the details of your experimental studies, which involved over 7,500 people?

We conducted a total of 14 studies between 2018 and 2020 in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, with participants divided into two groups each time. The focus was on the speed of response to questions on different subjects.

Participants either listened to an audio clip, watched a video, or read a story from a person answering a simple question, such as: "Did you like that cake that friend baked?", or "did you steal money at work? In each scenario, the response time varied from an immediate response to a delay of 3, 4, 5... to 10 seconds (considered as a late response). Participants then rated the sincerity of the response on a scale.
Studies have shown that the slower you respond, the less credible you appear. And the quicker the response, the more credible you appear. For example, a five-second response time compared to a zero second response time has an effect on credibility.

However, the results of this study must be qualified. Indeed, when the response is judged as "socially undesirable" (e.g., telling your friend that you don't like their cake, or telling your husband that you cheated on him), or judged as "complicated" (e.g., stealing a piece of candy 10 years ago), then the time frame for response did not matter much.

Why do you think the delay in answering questions results in a gain or loss of credibility, and ultimately, such judgment among participants?

A quick answer implies that the responder is expressing a spontaneous thought, and therefore an a priori sincere answer. Conversely, a slower response, even by a few seconds, suggests that the responder is elaborating and "inventing" a response. The participants in these studies do not interpret a longer response time as time needed for reflection, and requiring for example, effort to remember, but as insincerity. Moreover, in this research, the observers, who judge the sincerity of the answers, are in fact basing themselves on their life experiences, and on their presuppositions.

Intuitively, we all tend to think that the longer it takes to answer a question, the less true the content of the answer is... Could the consequences be detrimental during a recruitment process?

We know, psychologically, that the speed of a response has an effect on the perception of sincerity. And, there are indeed consequences on recruitment. Some studies have shown that, on average, quick responses are indeed more sincere, but this is not 100% true! There are many reasons for this including the effects of stress and the time required to understand the question which can lead to a slower response time.

What are your main recommendations?

It is important to make some recommendations to recruiters, especially the need to ignore the delay in answering a question, during a recruitment interview. Better yet, it would be preferable to stop giving spoken interviews, and instead, opt for written work, where the speed of the response is not a factor. In conclusion, it is therefore advisable, in the context of a recruitment decision, not to base one's judgment solely on the time taken to answer questions.

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