Mount Allison researcher investigates deceptive behaviours with SSHRC and CFI funding

25 Mar 2024
Psychology professor Dr. Alison O’Connor explores how lying evolves across our lifespans

Dr. Alison O’Connor, psychology professor at Mount Allison University, has been awarded new research funding through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), and ResearchNB.

The SSHRC grant, valued at $70,000, will support her project titled Exploring socioemotional correlates of younger and older adults' lie-telling: A multi-methodological approach. This study looks at the interplay between age and deceptive behaviors, shedding light on how lying patterns change as individuals progress from adulthood to later life.

“There’s a big field of research on how children start to lie to others, but I noticed there was much less in adult development at the other end of the lifespan,” says O'Connor, who embarked on this line of research as a graduate student at Brock University.

While it might seem that adults would better understand the consequences of deceit and therefore avoid it, the research paints a different picture.

“Lying decreases as you age into later life, but we still are telling lies,” says O’Connor. “It’s this pervasive social behaviour. So how does that affect us socially? How does that affect our relationships? How does that relate to how we feel about ourselves and our identity?”

With this project, she hopes to delve deeper into the underlying social and psychological motivations for dishonesty among adults. The insights gleaned from this research could help adults develop healthier social interactions, more authentic relationships, and a stronger sense of self.

“I want people to lead fulfilling lives where they feel good about themselves, and their interactions with other people,” she says.

O’Connor’s research also includes strategies to promote honesty and integrity in legal and health contexts, where deceptive behaviours can have serious consequences.

Another important area of research for O’Connor is exploring how individuals respond to and fall prey to deceptive behaviours. With $35,000 in funding from CFI and $48,000 in matching funds from ResearchNB, O’Connor will be able to purchase eye-tracking technology that will help her investigate how individuals detect scams and fraudulent emails.

"I’m interested in how accurately we can discern trustworthy emails and finding techniques to protect us against financial fraud schemes,” she says.

By analyzing participants’ gaze patterns with eye-tracking technology, O’Connor hopes to discern whether these patterns align with their ability to accurately judge email trustworthiness and if such distinctions vary by age group.

Securing funding from multiple sources has been instrumental in expanding the scope of O’Connor’s research and offering more opportunities for student involvement.

As the Director of the Lifespan Lab at Mount Allison, O'Connor provides students with opportunities to engage in all stages of social development research, from data analysis to community outreach. Students in her lab are currently pursuing a range of projects, from the dynamics of lying in romantic relationships to discrimination toward aging prisoners.

Since joining Mount Allison in 2022, O’Connor has enjoyed collaborating with students.

“I’ve been genuinely impressed by the level of student engagement,” she says. “There’s been a lot of student interest in assisting with the Lifespan lab, which has been really exciting to see. I’ve loved working with students and hearing their perspectives. It’s been a great beginning here at Mount Allison.”

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