Liar Liar! Deception Detection Techniques

Therell-be-a-lot-of-nose-touchingI was watching an interview of a suspect and all fingers of guilt were pointed in his direction. He locked down his body language. He clasped his hands together in the lap and froze his feet as if he were stuck in cement. He gave an occasional head nod. His overall body posture was stiff and stoic. The line of questioning was serious and he was confronted with possible deceptions. This person was trying to conceal the leakage of the body language, but instead broadcast the abnormal.

 What is the abnormal and what are the red flags of deception. We all have certain “tells” or deviations from our normal behavior when we are being deceptive. This is in response to stress at our attempts to suppress the truth. There are two important aspects to deception. The first is what is at stake and the resulting stress. Many, who proffer opinions concerning deception, have not sat across the table from someone that is looking at a prison jumpsuit for years. Do you like the red dress or the black?  Either one is a winner. Are you lying about why you left your last job during an HR job interview? You might not be hired. The stakes are increased. Did you steal the TV from the loading dock? You could be fired and go to jail.

The second important aspect to deception detection is a departure from their normal baseline. What is the normal baseline? I always strived for rapport. When conducting an interview, I find their interests and passions. We talk about their background. I want them to relax and become comfortable, so that I can gauge their body language and verbal response tendencies in a relaxed state.  

Politicians are priceless when it comes to speaking, and they are masters of deception. One of the primary clues is the response latency. That is the time it takes to respond to the question. If you catch them off guard and in a basic state of shock, the cortex must now respond and is in a position to formulate an answer. Quite often, these gaps are populated with stalling words such as ahhh or ummm.

Another manner of delayed response is deflection. Like a mirror, deflection is a verbal device of beaming the rays back to you. They may ask you to repeat the question for clarification. They might ask you to rephrase the question. On the other side of the coin, a too quick response sends a message that you have rehearsed an answer to an anticipated question. This jumping the gun behavior happens after debate prep, in which a candidate is asked every conceivable question. As the question is asked, the respondent anticipates the question and suffers a false start. 

We all take a moment to formulate a response to an inquiry. Just be mindful the longer it takes, the more disingenuous you sound. A normal response is about one second. In a study in 2002, Professor Robin Lickley of Queen Margaret University in Scotland determined the longer the lapse between the question and the answer, the greater chance of being perceived as untruthful. The pregnant pause merely raises a flag to your intended recipients that they may view you as less than forthcoming.

Bella DePaulo, psychology professor at the University of Virginia, and DeborahKashy, an assistant professor of psychology at Texas A & M University, in a 1996 study discovered that people lie every day. According to their study of students who maintained journals, they lied about thirty percent of the time in different interactions. Many of these deceptions are innocent. “I can’t go out tonight, I have to study,” or “I have to transplant the ficus tree.”

If they salt in qualifying statements that are not necessary, beware. “To be perfectly honest…” “I want to tell you the truth.” “The truth of the matter is…” There is no reason to add these if you are in fact telling the truth. Your response should stand on its own. People use “honest” all the time. Honest is honest. Is “perfectly honest” more honest than plain honest? You be the judge.

Pronoun usage can also indicate truthfulness. When using “I,” you are taking responsibility or ownership. When you are looking to place some distance between you and the answer, you talk in the “we, they, and you,” vernacular. I really saw this behavior in statements from criminals when they were talking of victims or accusers. Instead of using the person’s name, they used “that girl” or “that car.” These responses show a dissociation of the person or item.  Keep in mind that humble individuals have difficulty talking of about them and using “I.”

Many will attest to increased blink rate, touching the nose, as in the Pinocchio effect, eye- tracking movement, tongue jut and so on. I am cautious to look for these “gotcha” gestures. How would you like to be judged a liar because of environmental conditions or allergies? “You touched your nose!”  I preferred to monitor comfort versus discomfort in nonverbal displays. Is their response a result to the question or in response to the thought that they forgot to pay the electric bill?  

Aldert Vrij, professor of Applied Psychology at the University of Portsmouth, UK, has focused his research in the area of deception. He is one of the foremost authorities on lying. A great deal of junk science is out there. Vrij’s extensive research has determined one single trait that is of a higher consistency with deception. Most people not being truthful are less expressive with their hands and arms. That’s it. Period. 

For more information on interviewing deception, take a look at: FACE 2 FACE : Observation, Interviewing and Rapport Building Skills: an Ex-Secret Service Agent’s Guide


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6 Responses to Liar Liar! Deception Detection Techniques

  1. sahar al sharram says:

    In my opinion it’s a bad thing when you lie to make others believe that you are honest,because you dont know they might know that you are a lier, and they might hate you, so be honest from the begining to earn the trust of others .

    • mike says:

      Sahar, I agree. If you start off with honesty, you never have to worry about being deceptive. Thank you for your comments. Cheers, Mike


    Great article Mike! I loved how you wrapped the detection deception approaches into one.

  3. Andrea says:

    Good points, Mike. I especially appreciate the emphasis on seeing clues and then determining what they mean, instead of just assuming deception. For example, what Joe Navarro calls the “ejector seat” posture, which *can* be indicative of deception, is something I do when I’m attempting to suppress hostility for the person I’m talking to. It *could* mean I’m lying in response to questions, but it really means I’m fighting a strong urge to savagely berate the other party, such as when my boss is lying right to my face and I know it. Could be deception, or could be recognition of a relatively powerless position in the face of injustice. It would take skill to tell those apart.

    • mike says:

      Andrea, my thoughts exactly. As Joe Navarro advocates the posture of comfort versus non comfort. We don’t have a crystal ball and it can be dangerous to suggest what someone is thinking. Cheers, Mike

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