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Veils may improve observers’ ability to judge truth: Study


Toronto: It may be easier to determine the truthfulness of a woman wearing a headscarf or even a veil when testifying, contrary to the opinions of some courts which believe that it is necessary to see a person’s face to detect deception, a new study has claimed.

“The presence of a veil may compel observers to pay attention to more ‘diagnostic’ cues, such as listening for verbal indicators of deception,” said Amy-May Leach from University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Canada.

Judges in the US, the UK and Canada have ruled that witnesses may not wear the niqab, which covers everything but the eyes, when testifying, in part because they believe that it is necessary to see a person’s face to detect deception, researchers said.

For the study, believed to be the first to look into the effects of religious garments on lie detection, researchers conducted two experiments with a total of 523 participants.

They examined participants’ lie detection accuracy, response biases and decision strategies when evaluating the testimony of eyewitnesses in three veiling conditions: women wearing a niqab, which covers everything but the eyes; women wearing a hijab, which covers only the head and neck; and those wearing no veil.

“We hypothesised that lie detection accuracy would be higher in the niqab condition than in the hijab or no-veil conditions because it would minimise the availability of misleading cues to deception,” said Leach.

“It was only when witnesses wore veils (hijabs or niqabs) that observers performed above chance levels. Thus, veiling actually improved lie detection,” she said.

In the first experiment, 232 students at a university in Canada were divided into groups. In one, 80 female “witnesses” were shown a video of a woman watching a stranger’s bag.

Half the witnesses saw the woman steal something from the bag. All the witnesses were told the woman was accused of theft and that they were being called upon to testify about what they saw.

All were instructed to say the woman stole nothing – meaning half would be lying. Then they were randomly assigned to wear a niqab, a hijab or no veil. All wore black shawls over their clothing.

The witnesses were interviewed by trained experimenters and videotaped. Researchers then selected 10 videos of liars and 10 videos of truth-tellers in each veiling condition. The other participants watched the videos and indicated whether the women were lying or not.

Participants’ judgements were more accurate when they watched the women in the niqabs and hijabs than when they watched those who were not veiled, researchers said.

The second experiment was similar to the first but, in addition to Canada, it was also conducted in the Netherlands and the UK, they said.

“Observers were more accurate at detecting deception in witnesses who wore niqabs or hijabs than those who did not veil,” researchers said.

The findings were published in the journal Law and Human Behaviour.

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