A Lesson From The Bachelorette on How to Spot a Lie

From The Bachelorette. Photo: Rick Rowell/ABC

Here, for all of those people struggling with the shame of a trashy-TV habit, is a small midweek gift: validation. On this week’s episode of The Bachelorette, an interesting little piece of psychology was on display: Our gal JoJo, on her journey to find love, has along the way provided us with a case study in how people react when they suspect their loved ones are being less than truthful. (Put another way: The Bachelorette helps you learn things!)

First, a little background for the uninitiated: Jordan Rodgers, former pro quarterback (in the grand tradition of meaningless Bachelorette job titles), brother of actual pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers, is this season’s current front-runner — and, now that luxury-real-estate agent/human steroid Chad has been sent packing, its newest villain.

Is one of these things a product of the other? Maybe. The other men of the house don’t trust him, but the other men of the house are quite possibly even thirstier for drama than they are for JoJo herself. And if the past infinity seasons of The Bachelor franchise have taught us anything, it’s that the biggest competition usually makes for the best scapegoat.

But on Jordan and JoJo’s one-on-one date (this is opposed to a group date, which tends to have fewer heartfelt declarations but more displays of naked aggression), some shady information floats to the surface: JoJo, because Bachelor Nation is a small world after all, has been talking to Jordan’s ex, who has informed her that he maybe isn’t such a great guy. Awkwardness ensues. Here’s a partial clip:

And now we’re all caught up! So, now, the question (and, to be sure, a question that will arise again this season): Was he lying? The producers seem to be hinting that way, at least. And JoJo initially isn’t quite sure: “I wish I could read your mind,” she says at one point. To which Jordan responds, pitch-perfect, “I’m not really thinking anything.”

But there are a few things that seem to suggest he may be less than honest. Let’s address that little tangent about the love advice from his childhood pastor first, because, well, that was weird. Word vomit, as it turns out, is a common side effect of skirting the truth. A 2013 Harvard study found that when people tell outright falsehoods — as opposed to lying by omission — they tend to talk for longer periods, using excess words to cover their tracks and convince the person they’re talking to. In a Harvard Business School blog post on the study, one of the authors called this the “Pinocchio effect,” explaining, “Just like Pinocchio’s nose, the number of words grew along with the lie.”

Coincidentally, researchers who study lying also speak of another Pinocchio effect: It’s not totally clear why this happens but nervousness sends blood rushing toward the nose, which in turn can make it itch — one reason why face-touching often happens as a lie is being told, and some research suggests that measuring the temperature of the nose corresponds to the lie’s complexity. (The clip doesn’t show the series of little nose wipes he performs at the beginning of the conversation. And while we’re at it, maintaining eye contact, the classic lie-detecting measure, has been questioned in recent years, but he’s not great at that, either.)

But such is the magic of Jordan that when JoJo is done questioning him, she doesn’t just seem satisfied — she apologizes, begging him not to be mad at her as she goes in for the hug.

A little more skepticism couldn’t hurt; on the other hand, it’s a lot easier to assume someone is telling the truth than it is to assume they’re not. Once we form an impression of someone, we tend to bend information around that impression (Jordan, for what it’s worth, snagged the coveted First Impression Rose); we generally believe what we want to believe, selectively processing and weighing evidence in a way that supports our desired outcome. It’s why, as past research has shown, people are biased toward believing what they hear — we’re pretty bad at detecting lies to begin with, but even worse when the liar in question is someone we know and feel affection for. Bad news when you’re juggling 25 men with an agenda; great news, though, for the drama-starved masses of Bachelor Nation. It’s okay, though — you watch it for the psychology lessons.

A Lesson From The Bachelorette on Spotting a Lie