Nonverbal Clues to Deception

How crucial are nonverbal clues to detecting deception?

A recent 2017 study argues that reading nonverbal behavior is a crucial component to discovering mistruth and understanding if another person is lying. In this research, Dr. Eric Novotny and a team of scholars respond to previous research that underplays the role of nonverbal clues in everyday deception detection.

Their work built on a 2002 survey which asked participants how they tend to discover a lie. This survey found that most participants discovered lies through verbal cues or hard evidence, rather than noting tone, eye contact, or other nonverbal cues.

Based on that survey, Dr. Novotny hypothesized that there was a difference between discovering and suspecting a lie and that nonverbal behavior was critical to understanding deception detection. This distinction, he argued, was well-grounded in psychological research, because initial suspicion is a key part of changing one’s perception to the point that they would check a lie in the first place.

This initial framework led to a pair of studies. The first was a close replication of the 2002 survey. However, instead of only asking participants about what clues led them to discovering lies, they asked what clues led to the original suspicion of a lie. This adjusted survey was contrasted with a control group which simply asked the same 2002 questions.

Unsurprisingly, those asked the original questions reported non-behavioral factors, such as confessions or hard evidence as leading to their discovery, just as the previous research found. However, participants confirmed that behavioral evidence was used most frequently in terms of developing a suspicion, just as was hypothesized.

Dr. Novotny notes how extraordinarily different the results were with just a simple change in the questions asked. This raised the possibility that linguistic changes were more responsible for the differing results than anything else, so he conducted a second study to account for this.

This next survey worked with identical hypotheses but featured a variety of survey questions. The procedure was almost the same but divided the questions into four slight variants. Still, the same results were replicated despite minor differences in survey wording.

Because they also affirmed the 2002 study’s findings, Dr. Novotny and his fellow researchers concluded that discovering a lie is quite different from beginning to suspect one. This has critical implications on the field of deception detection. Instead of simply focusing on hard evidence, it is important to pick up on subtle nonverbal cues in order to begin to learn when we are lied to.

While we all have some ability to do this, it is also something that you can improve on, like all efforts to read people. That is exactly why Humintell offers both “Evaluating Truthfulness” and “Tactical Interviewing” training packages.

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