Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

The Assessment of Credibility: An Analysis of Truth and Deception in a Multiethnic Environment

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

The Assessment of Credibility: An Analysis of Truth and Deception in a Multiethnic Environment

Article excerpt

Abstract

Credibility assessment involves the ability to distinguish a liar from a truthful person. In the traditional homogeneous societies, we can find some relatively strong consensus, as well as common learned indicators, that enable the participants in legal procedures to use more or less similar factors to assess the credibility of the testimonies given. Now, what about our current multiethnic societies where the different actors do not always have the same ethnic background and do not necessarily share the same cultural values? Can we find a similar consensus as well as common indicators? After examining what contemporary research tells us about the concept of credibility and its assessment, I will undertake to explain how truth and deception are distinguished in a multiethnic context, and I will look at the accuracy rates of such judgments. Are they better or worse than judgments made by people of the same ethnic background? What criteria are used? The same or different ones? In conclusion, it is suggested that familiarity with the specific aspects of different cultures can produce more adequate judgments of credibility.

In most legal procedures, starting from the interrogation of suspects to the evaluation of testimonies given during the actual trial, the different actors involved, that is, the police officers, the investigators, the trial judge, and the jury, all have, at some point, to decide whether the victim, an eyewitness or the accused are indeed telling the truth. This is what is called "credibility assessment." It is also a type of assessment used daily by customs officers. To perform this type of evaluation and to obtain the best possible results, the "assessors" use personal strategies and indicators tfiat derive from their own knowledge and from previous learning on what can be used with the best possible efficiency to distinguish a liar from a truthful and honest person.

In the traditional homogeneous societies, we can find some relatively strong consensus, as well as common learned indicators, that enable the participants in legal procedures to use more or less similar factors to assess the credibility of the testimonies given. They are not necessarily most efficient in all cases, but they are perceived to be and are readily used. Now, what about our current multiethnic societies where the different actors do not always have the same ethnic background and do not necessarily share the same cultural values? Can we find a similar consensus and common indicators?

In order to answer this question, which, as we all can imagine, has serious implications for the proper functioning of the judicial system, I will first examine what contemporary research tells us about the concept of credibility and its assessment.

The Concept of Credibility

By definition, deception is an act whose deliberate intention is to create in others a belief or a conception that the deceiver knows to be false or erroneous (Zuckerman, DePaulo, & Rosenthal, 1981). In this sense, the credibility of a testimony refers to the will or the intent of the witness in relation to die formulation of a trutfiful or deceptive statement (Köhnken, 1989). This notion is to be distinguished from that of the "reliability" or "accuracy" of the testimony, which basically refers to the degree of congruence that exists between the original stimulus situation and the statement made about what actually happened (Köhnken, 1989). Reliability or accuracy can be modified or altered by unconscious and involuntary errors made by the witness, errors that derive most of the time from memory failures, from misleading postevent information or biased instructions associated with die interrogation or from suboptimal conditions of perception in the original situation (see Lloyd-Bostock 8c Clifford, 1983; Shepherd, Ellis, & Davies, 1982; Wells & Loftus, 1984).

There is a debate surrounding the meaning of the notion of credibility and it can be described in relation to two conceptual approaches or strategies (Köhnken, 1989; Undeutsch, 1989). …

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