Evaluating Truthfulness and Detecting Deception

job-interviewWhile interviewing the suspect who claims ignorance about an incident, the witness who saw it happen, or the informant who identified the perpetrator, the detective asks a question that will eviscerate the perpetrator’s story. As the suspect prepares to answer, he looks up and to the left, purses his lips, tenses his eyelids, and brings his eyebrows down.

The investigator knows that a suspect displaying shifty eyes and gaze aversion and looking up and to the left when answering uncomfortable questions is exhibiting signs of lying. The suspect is not totally disinterested, but he is reluctant to participate in the interview. Because the suspect’s behavior suggests dishonesty, the detective prepares to drill still deeper in the questioning.

Unfortunately, this investigator likely would be wrong. Twenty-three out of 24 peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals reporting experiments on eye behavior as an indicator of lying have rejected this hypothesis. No scientific evidence exists to suggest that eye behavior or gaze aversion can gauge truthfulness reliably.

Some people say that gaze aversion is the sure sign of lying, others that fidgety feet or hands are the key indicators. Still others believe that analysis of voice stress or body posture provides benchmarks. Research has tested all of these indicators and found them only weakly associated with deception.

Relying on false clues, or signs, about lying can have dire consequences. It can lead to inaccurate reads that witnesses, suspects, or informants are lying when they are not or that they are telling the truth when there is more to the story. Reliance on false clues leads to misplaced confidence about the strengths and weaknesses of cases and can lead an investigator down dead-end paths. Moreover, a false read can have deadly consequences.

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