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Baselining in Mafia

You can’t generalize certain cues such as lack of eye contact (or prolonged eye contact), fidgeting or restating the question with lying. Many people simply avoid eye contact or fidget when they interact with people. Instead you compare a person’s behaviour to a baseline, how he or she normally acts when telling the truth in a casual environment. In the context of Mafia, this means making a mental note of people’s verbal mannerisms when they are on civilian team (ie innocence baseline) and comparing to that when he or she is mafia (ie guilty). Here are examples of two people I have formed a baseline from conversing with them during the game:

Daphne when she is civilian (baseline):

Me: Who do you want to lynch?
Her: Let’s lynch Jon because he’s avoiding other people’s questions.

Daphne when she is mafia:

Me: Who do you want to lynch?
Her: I don’t care, let’s just lynch anyone.

In the first case, Daphne’s intentions are clear and she gives specific reasons for them. It doesn’t matter what those exact intentions are, it’s the fact they’re well-defined. Furthermore I noticed her tone of voice conveys confidence which suggests she firmly believes what she is saying (ie not lying) under normal circumstances. However in the second case, her intentions aren’t specific and her voice doesn’t convey the same level of confidence. Therefore that triggered a red flag, hinting she is probably lying or trying to hide something potentially incriminating.

Dominique when he is civilian (baseline):

Me: Are you mafia?
Him: No

Dominique when he is mafia:

Me: Are you mafia?
Him: I am not the mafia.

In the first scenario, Dom’s response to my question was short, but in the second case, his response was a complete sentence. As a guilty person, he feels the need to convince other people to believe his statements so he tries to emphasize his point by answering my question in a complete sentence. Innocent people (with no motive to lie) have nothing to be afraid of. That’s why Dom was comfortable with giving a curt answer to my question when he knows he is innocent. Also notice how he answered with I am not… instead of I’m not… Most people normally use contractions in their speech (I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t use them) so when Dom didn’t use a contraction, that triggered a red flag.

I should mention yes/no questions are terrible at establishing a baseline. Instead of asking are you the mafia, ask an open-ended question such as why do you think that person is suspicious. This forces the person to give a more elaborate response than a yes or no. The more words a person speaks, the more information he or she gives away. The above question has somehow worked for me although I don’t expect it to work for much longer.

Of course the dialogue I mentioned earlier alone isn’t enough to conclude if a player is lying. I use other cues (mostly verbal mannerisms) in combination to determine whether a person is guilty of being mafia. I listen to how players present information (specificity and level of detail), how they react to accusations (whether they deny, give counterexamples or change topics) and how they lynch other players (quietly go with the group, voice their opinions or hesitate). A person’s behaviour in itself won’t reliably tell you whether or not he or she is lying. You have to compare to a baseline. Deviations from the baseline are red flags indicative of deception.

One last thing I’d like to share is this article which details a study finding trusting people are better at detecting lies than people low in trust. Although not mentioned, I think part of the reason is when you don’t trust someone, you physically and/or emotionally distance yourself from him or her so you miss the subtle cues that hint when someone is lying or telling the truth.

Categories: Life
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  1. July 3, 2013 at 10:13 am

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