Lying, deceiving, misleading: are we committed to our gestures?

Dr. Mailin Ines Antomo, University of Göttingen

Project description:
Lying and, more generally, deceiving are fundamental human experiences: everyone lies and is lied to every day. In the traditional understanding, lying requires asserting something the speaker believes to be false, whereas other verbal or non-verbal ways of deception (like disclosing part of the truth or pointing in the wrong direction)are often analyzed as mere cases of misleading. The border between lying and misleading, then, matches the semantics-pragmatics boundary and lying is restricted to verbally communicated content. However, the recent decade has faced numerous investigations, many of them experimental, who put forward arguments against such a narrow definition of lying. Researchers from empirical linguistics and empirical philosophy have shown, for instance, that it is possible to lie by means of implicatures or with presuppositions. Furthermore, the results of several studies suggest that there is a strong correlation between the degree of perceived commitment and the degree to which an utterance is perceived as a lie. Following such a commitment-based definition of lying, lying, then, amounts to being committed to a proposition p that is false (or that the communicator of p believes to be false). Both concepts, commitment, and lying have been investigated with a strong focus on spoken and written language, whereas visual aspects of communication have often been marginalized. Therefore, this project aims at investigating the significance of the verbal/visual distinction in commitment attribution and the theory of lying by aiming to answer the following questions:-Are untruthful gestures perceived as lies, or is lying bound to verbal communication? To what degree do gestures involve speaker commitment?-Can a commitment-based notion of lying account for untruthful gestures? It is planned to conduct systematic empirical studies on (deceptive) gestures and commitment by working with visual data captured on video (in German and Chinese) to elicit lay people’s intuitions. A first pilot study shows differences depending on gesture type and contextual relevance of the gestural content. In sum, by conducting experimental studies, this research project pursues the main objective to enhance the theory of commitment and the concept of lying in order that they are able to capture gestural meaning contributions. The two major issues are, thus, empirical (gather new data on (deceptive) gestures and commitment) and theoretical (implementation of gestural meaning contributions into theoretical notions of commitment and lying).