Increasing scepticism toward potential liars: effects of existential threat on veracity judgments and the moderating role of honesty norm activation
With the present research, we investigated effects of existential threat on veracity judgments. According to several meta-analyses, people judge potentially deceptive messages of other people as true rather than as false (so-called truth bias). This judgmental bias has been shown to depend on how people weigh the error of judging a true message as a lie (error 1) and the error of judging a lie as a true message (error 2). The weight of these errors has been further shown to be affected by situational variables. Given that research on terror management theory has found evidence that mortality salience (MS) increases the sensitivity toward the compliance of cultural norms, especially when they are of focal attention, we assumed that when the honesty norm is activated, MS affects judgmental error weighing and, consequently, judgmental biases. Specifically, activating the norm of honesty should decrease the weight of error 1 (the error of judging a true message as a lie) and increase the weight of error 2 (the error of judging a lie as a true message) when mortality is salient. In a first study, we found initial evidence for this assumption. Furthermore, the change in error weighing should reduce the truth bias, automatically resulting in better detection accuracy of actual lies and worse accuracy of actual true statements. In two further studies, we manipulated MS and honesty norm activation before participants judged several videos containing actual truths or lies. Results revealed evidence for our prediction. Moreover, in Study 3, the truth bias was increased after MS when group solidarity was previously emphasized.