Human brain activity is key in deception research
Vendemia has collaborated with psychology department colleague Tawanda Greer to use fMRI scans to detect brain activity associated with racist attitudes. And she is hoping to expand her deception research by exploring cultural differences in lying.
"In cultures that are more group oriented, there is more deception," Vendemia said. "A study that involved Canadian and Chinese subjects showed that there are fewer reasons to lie as an individual than as part of a group.
"We have what we call white lies-little deceptions that make life more convenient or smooth like telling someone they look fine when they really don't. In India there are blue lies, which one tells to protect a family name. There are different reasons to lie and it's partly tied to personality and culture."
Vendemia traveled to China earlier this fall to begin exploring ways to begin her cross-cultural research on deception.
But the bread-and-butter research on deception is driven by homeland security.
"In the screening world, the big questions they want to ask are along the lines of, ‘Are you the kind of person who might... ?'" Vendemia said. "In other words, a person might not be a secret terrorist, but he or she might have personality quirks that might make them prone to become one or to act out in some dangerous way.
"Those are the most difficult questions to map out from our perspective because you're asking about nebulous concepts. We can measure the decision to tell a lie with fMRI, but we can't map out someone's thought processes. There is far more to be discovered than what's been found so far."