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On Lie Detection “Wizards”

M. O’Sullivan and P. Ekman (2004) claim to have discovered 29 wizards of deception detection. The present commentary offers a statistical critique of the evidence for this claim. Analyses reveal that chance can explain results that the authors attribute to wizardry. Thus, by the usual statistical logic of psychological research, O’Sullivan and Ekman's claims about wizardry are gratuitous. Even so, there may be individuals whose wizardry remains to be uncovered. Thus, the commentary outlines forms of evidence that are (and are not) capable of diagnosing lie detection wizardry.

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  1. It is under the model based on student judges’ lie detection accuracy that we must make the assumption outlined in the text. Under the model based on the accuracy of all earlier judges, we “predict” 29 wizards by assuming that 2,248 of the 12,000 professionals completed all of the lie detection tests. An alternative statistical analysis would treat as unknown the number of professionals who were invited to take all of the lie detection tests. Then it would use the chance probability of wizard-qualifying performances on the latter two tests to induce the number of professionals who in fact completed the test battery. Applying this alternative treatment in the context of the student judge research-based model, we “predict” 29 wizards if 114 of the 12,000 professionals completed all three tests. Obviously, our two statistical analyses yield different inferences. We ourselves regard the second analysis as more defensible—given that participants were (or were not) invited to complete the test battery based on their self-reports of a test outcome.


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Correspondence to Charles F. Bond Jr..

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Bond, C.F., Uysal, A. On Lie Detection “Wizards”. Law Hum Behav 31, 109–115 (2007).

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  • deception detection