Ever wonder how psychologists recruit willing subjects for studies?  Sometimes it's an open call (like the ones I responded to in college for extra cash) and sometimes it's a targeted search based on preconceived notions.

In 2005, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Southern California set out to find some brains to scan. Yaling Yang wanted to compare the brains of those who are uncomfortable with deception to the brains of frequent and compulsive liars, hypothesizing that a deficiency would exist. But where could she round up enough "liar brains" to complete the study? The local jail?  The presidential campaign trail?  An elementary school principal's office, perhaps?

Nope. She looked no further than a temp agency.


A 2008 Radio Lab segment on Yang's study explained her reasoning like this:

"...Yang and her team chose to focus their study on people who have a history of repeated lying and seem not to be able to control their lying... The researchers began by gathering volunteers from temporary employment agencies in the Los Angeles area. The idea was that liars would be over-represented at these agencies; a history of repeated lying would likely make it hard to keep a steady job."

That's a pretty harsh assumption, adding fuel to the fire for those who still think "temp" is a four-letter word. What's obvious is that proving or disproving the stereotype was not important to Yang. She could get away her hunch because she was only in the subject-gathering phase. In the end, her method of picking study subjects was relatively arbitrary -- after all, she still had to conduct interviews/tests to reveal the true pathological liars, anyway. (She found 12 from an initial sample of 108... I'm not sure if that's higher than or consistent with the "normal" rate of pathological liars in a given population).

Still, she is a scientist and her choice was deliberate and symbolic. Are you surprised with her methodology? Do you think her line of thinking is warranted? What about all those excuses you staffing professionals hear on a daily basis?

Excuses are lies. And the ability to invent an excuse on-the-fly is apparently a skill associated with more white brain matter -- the connective tissue that Yang found in excess in the brains of those 12 temps. It's the same brain matter that starts to develop between ages 2 and 10 -- when children gain the ability to lie. The idea is that liars are essentially like storytellers, able to connect disparate ideas more easily than the rest of us, hopping easily from one to the next. So when your candidate says they are "down in the gut" because they weren't able to get all the weevils out of their bowl of rice... chalk it up to science. (But don't let them off the hook).

Tags: Industry, Yaling Yang, University of Southern California, Radio Lab