Detecting Deception

By Navarro, Joe; Schafer, John R. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Detecting Deception

Navarro, Joe, Schafer, John R., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

The young mother leaned back and cleared her throat. Her eyes teared and her voice quivered as she explained how her baby disappeared. Her clasped hands trembled slightly and her feet pointed toward the door. Her demeanor appeared too subdued. Reluctant to call the mother a liar, the investigator asked her if she had a reason to lie. She answered, "I never lie. My mother taught me always to tell the truth." The investigator had seen and heard enough--he asked the woman to take a polygraph examination. During the postpolygraph interview, the woman confessed that she had suffocated her baby. Both her verbal and nonverbal behaviors had revealed the gruesome truth.

From heated knife blades across the tongue to electric prods, people have sought ways throughout history to test the truthfulness of others. Fortunately, researchers in criminology and psychology have identified verbal and nonverbal behaviors that detect deception in a more humane manner. Nonetheless, detecting deception remains a difficult task. In fact, multiple studies have found that lie detection, like a coin toss, represents a 50/50 proposition, even for experienced investigators. [1] Although detecting deception remains difficult, investigators increase the odds for success by learning a few basic nonverbal and verbal cues indicative of lying.

The Fundamentals

Lying requires the deceiver to keep facts straight, make the story believable, and withstand scrutiny. When individuals tell the truth, they often make every effort to ensure that other people understand. In contrast, liars attempt to manage others' perceptions. [2] Consequently, people unwittingly signal deception via nonverbal and verbal cues. [3] Unfortunately, no particular nonverbal or verbal cue evinces deception. [4]

Investigators' abilities to detect deceptive behavior depends largely on their ability to observe, catalogue, and differentiate human behavior. They must identify clusters of behavior, which cumulatively reinforce deceptive behaviors unique to the person the person interviewed. [5] Investigators also should learn to formulate questions to facilitate behavioral observations. The more observations investigators make, the greater the probability of detecting deception. For the most part, family members and close friends display patterns of genuine openness. For inexperienced investigators, these behavioral patterns may serve as a comparative reference for contrast with deceptive behaviors.

The Interview Setting

The ideal setting for an interview places the interviewee in a position where no obstacles, such as tables or desks, block the interviewer's full view of the subject's body. A large portion of nonverbal behaviors emanates from the lower body, not just from the hands and face. Feet that fidget or point to the door communicate discomfort. [6] If subjects sit behind a desk or table, officers should encourage them to relocate. Deceivers often use soda cans, computer screens, and other objects, both large and small, to form a barrier between themselves and investigators. [7] Objects used in this manner create distance, separation, and partial concealment--behaviors consistent with dishonesty.

The Eyes

Many investigators rely too heavily on eye contact. Research indicates that people, especially frequent liars, actually increase eye contact because they learned that investigators often gauge veracity by strong eye contact. [8] Nevertheless, eye aversion during difficult questions, as opposed to benign questions, can depict distress.

Eyes do not just see, they communicate when the brain conducts internal dialog, recalls past events, crafts answers, or processes information. Eyes also serve as a blocking mechanism, much the same way as folded hands across the chest or turning away in disagreement. When people hear or see something they disagree with or do not fully support, their eyelids tend to close longer than a normal blink.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Detecting Deception


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?