Is there such thing as truth serum?
Are you a fantasy lover? Have kids—or perhaps you’re young at heart, yourself?
If so, you may be familiar with Veritaserum from the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. Just a few drops of this magic potion and you can force anyone to answer your questions honestly.
While officially only to be used by the Ministry of Magic for interrogating suspects, naturally the temptation is quite strong for others to use it on their enemies and even loved ones.
What makes Veritaserum so great—and also so unrealistic?
Veritaserum is so pure and powerful that questions must be answered truthfully. Although technically possible to counteract the potion’s force with one’s will, it is—nevertheless, incredibly difficult to do so. And while counter potions do exist, they are difficult to attain and of course must be readily available at the time of need.
Veritaserum is also sadly unrealistic for people who don’t live in the World of Wizardry. That is because no natural or man-made concoction has been discovered or invented that can consistently force someone to answer all questions asked and, more so, in a truthful manner.
The Court System’s Dependence on Testimony
Like the Ministry of Magic, the court system relies upon honest testimony by victims, suspects, witnesses, and experts.
There is ample evidence supporting the validity of DNA testing, and one would think that the fields of psychology and medicine would have kept pace and developed technologies for obtaining reliable testimony from individuals.
Surely science should be able to determine whether someone is lying or not, and—taking it a step further, administer a drug to guarantee that an individual’s testimony is truthful!
Real-Life Modern-Day Truth Serums
Sodium thiopental (or Sodium Pentothal) is the closest to a genuine truth serum that exists today. Sodium thiopental is a short-acting barbiturate that has a history of being used in lethal injections and during induction of anesthesia.
When used as a “truth serum,” it causes a lowering of inhibitions and inspires the recipient to reveal more information than he or she otherwise might not.
Problems with the use of sodium thiopental abound. The biggest drawback is that—while inhibitions for disclosure are lowered, there is no guarantee that the revelations are truthful.
Take a compulsive liar, for instance. He might be more open, but his natural tendency to lie runs so deep that his revelations are, in fact, lies.
The Ethics (or lack thereof) of the Use of Truth Serums
Besides the lack of a guarantee of honesty to the revelations that arise from the use of sodium thiopental, there are numerous ethical (and legal) issues around its use.
The most significant in the United States is that it is unconstitutional; the Fifth Amendment states that an individual “shall not be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”
There is also the inherent discomfort of the idea of allowing the government, other entity, or an individual to go digging around in people’s minds to get at the information that might be hiding there.
Alternatives to Truth Serum
Given the problems with the use of sodium thiopental and the lack of a better truth serum, what can you do to force someone to be truthful or determine if he or she is lying?
This isn’t just a problem for the courtroom; studies have shown that the biggest liars in people’s lives are, in fact, their loved ones—the people they trust the most.
Some knowledge of lie detection can benefit everyone.
Here are some of your options, ranging from the most “scientific” to the most “unscientific:”
Put Intuition into Action
Threatening to withhold dessert might work on a four-year-old, but threats are less effective on the spouse you suspect is cheating or the neighbor you think has been stealing your tomatoes.
Of all the options listed above, the most straightforward is to speak to the person directly and use your gut to tell you if he or she is being honest or not.
Intuition is like a muscle; it can be strengthened with practice. Body language cues can provide additional information.
The next time you suspect someone of lying, try the following method:
1. Find the right moment, when you and the individual you suspect of lying aren’t running around or otherwise distracted.
2. Sit or stand face-to-face, so you can devote your attention fully to the other person.
3. Clear your mind of thoughts and worries. Ground yourself: imagine roots leaving your feet and extending into the ground. Connect yourself with the universe by imaging yourself a part of everything—the sky, the trees, the pet dog or cat.
4. Calmly ask the individual your question, for example: “Honey, did you take out the trash last night?”
5. Really hear what the other person says. Connect with the sound of their words. Observe their behaviors. Are they looking at you or away? Are their hands steady or are they fidgeting?
6. Then, without judgment of the content of what they said, connect with your gut. Really connect with it. Focus your attention on the abdominal area. What does your belly feel like? Notice any uncomfortable sensations, like a twisting feeling or nausea. If you notice them, there is a good chance that you probably are being lied to.
Can you think of any other occasions where you can practice your lie detection skills using intuition?
How to Make a Homemade Truth Serum
To take the above method even further…
The closest thing to crafting your own homemade truth serum, is alcohol since it pretty much does the same thing what truth serum does of lowering inhibitions.
If you want to draw the truth out of somebody, casually invite them for a night out of drinking and partying.
Mixing fun and alcohol will definitely lower a person’s inhibition, with no risk of feeling threatening by revealing the truth when having a good time, contrasted to being on a court stand under oath – which if the truth ever did get out will follow by unknown consequence.
Using these lie detection techniques, you can now increase your chance of spotting a liar.