Mircea Zloteanu
October 2020

What do you work on?

I look at how peo­ple make deci­sions in sit­u­a­tions of uncer­tain­ty and how our opin­ions are biased by avail­able infor­ma­tion. For exam­ple, our abil­i­ty to detect when oth­ers are lying may be dis­rupt­ed by how we per­ceive peo­ple’s emotions.

“Are peo­ple will­ing to live with a ser­i­al killer if the incen­tives are just right?”

What did you do using Gorilla?

I have been using Gorilla to pro­gram exper­i­ments look­ing at peo­ples’ online behav­iour on shar­ing econ­o­my plat­forms. Using Gorilla, we cre­at­ed a shar­ing econ­o­my plat­form (e.g. a fake AirBnB-esque web­site) that offered accom­mo­da­tion to mea­sure how peo­ple make deci­sions about hosts given dif­fer­ent trust and rep­u­ta­tion infor­ma­tion (e.g., reviews or star ratings).

Gorilla allowed us to inves­ti­gate which infor­ma­tion is pre­ferred by users on such plat­forms and the impact it has on judgement.

In the near future, we will be using Gorilla to see if users can detect the qual­i­ty of online pro­files, how cul­ture affects judge­ment, and if peo­ple are will­ing to live with a ser­i­al killer if the incen­tives are just right.

Has this study been published?

The ini­tial shar­ing econ­o­my data has been pub­lished in Plos One.

Read our paper here.

What is the most excit­ing piece of research you’ve ever done?

A recent accom­plish­ment of mine is pub­lish­ing a project look­ing at how well peo­ple can detect decep­tive facial expres­sions of sur­prise. I was thrilled when it came out, because the research itself was the cul­mi­na­tion of the work I did dur­ing my PhD, uncov­er­ing why using facial expres­sions of emo­tion (as seen in media depic­tions of lie detec­tion) seems to not work.

What I found was two-fold. First, peo­ple are poor at detect­ing that the emo­tion on someone’s face is not gen­uine. This means that even if we learn to cat­e­go­rize facial expres­sions real­ly well it will give us no ben­e­fit because we can­not sep­a­rate emo­tions some­one feels ver­sus those they choose to show us.

Sec­ond, we showed that emo­tion recog­ni­tion research com­par­ing “posed” and gen­uine emo­tion detec­tion has a severe lim­i­ta­tion, because they do not account for how emo­tion pro­duc­tion affects per­cep­tions. We showed that not all “posed” emo­tions are cre­at­ed equal, and that research needs to con­sid­er this for us to have an accu­rate pic­ture of human emo­tion recognition.

“Rely­ing on emo­tions, such as facial expres­sions, can be detri­men­tal to lie detection.”

What are the main ways peo­ple mis­un­der­stand your thesis?

Some­thing that I get asked fre­quent­ly is if I am bet­ter than other peo­ple at catch­ing lies, given that this is my field of exper­tise. The main aim of my the­sis was to explain that humans are in gen­er­al very bad at catch­ing lies, as they are biased towards assum­ing peo­ple tend to be hon­est, and because they place too much empha­sis on emo­tions as cues for decep­tion. My work actu­al­ly shows that rely­ing on emo­tions, such as facial expres­sions, can be detri­men­tal to lie detec­tion, which is part­ly due to our abil­i­ty to fake emo­tions real­ly well.

How do you think online research is going to change your field?

Acad­e­mia is a very com­pet­i­tive place, with huge pres­sure being placed on researchers to pub­lish high qual­i­ty work very quickly.

Mov­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal stud­ies to an online domain can take some of this pres­sure away, espe­cial­ly for younger researchers whom are con­stant­ly run­ning against the clock. Even if you decide to run a Gorilla exper­i­ment in the lab local­ly, hav­ing the data be auto­mat­i­cal­ly record­ed and eas­i­ly export­ed to other plat­forms is a huge time-sav­ing benefit.

For you, what is the stand-out fea­ture in Gorilla?

Gorilla is a very ver­sa­tile tool, mak­ing its lim­i­ta­tions most­ly a result of the user’s expe­ri­ence with the tool. Set­ting up exper­i­ments and mak­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tions to them once they are cre­at­ed is very easy and intuitive.

How did Gorilla make your life or research bet­ter, eas­i­er or faster?

One fea­ture that I like is that you are not con­strained to using only the tools or tem­plates pro­vid­ed by the plat­form. If your javascript skills are good enough, you can pro­gram almost any study you want.

What advice would you give to some­one start­ing out in behav­iour­al science/research?

If you truly want to have a suc­cess­ful career in acad­e­mia, you need to learn how to plan in advance. A great part of being able to stay on course and progress in your career is to ensure you have an excel­lent work ethic. You need to make sure your rou­tine is scal­able to when you start work­ing on mul­ti­ple projects, and are under time pres­sure. Also, make sure to engage with other aca­d­e­mics and feel free to ask them ques­tions about what they do and what tips they have; oth­ers’ expe­ri­ence and wis­dom can be invalu­able in your per­son­al devel­op­ment. But also, find some­thing that can truly relax you for your downtime.

What sci­ence book have you read recent­ly that you’d rec­om­mend to others?

While this is a sci­ence-fic­tion book (so I may be cheat­ing on the answer), one that I come back to from time to time and would high­ly rec­om­mend is Ren­dezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke. It is, in my opin­ion, an excel­lent descrip­tion of how the sci­en­tif­ic process when inves­ti­gat­ing some­thing novel should unfold. At times it can be slow paced, unevent­ful, and leav­ing us with more ques­tions than when we start­ed, it can also so be sur­re­al, illu­mi­nat­ing, and awe-inspiring.

Mircea Zloteanu
Lie Detection, Emotions, Decision-Making, User Behaviour, Investigations
Forensic Psychology Lecturer
Teesside University
Mircea Zloteanu

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