Testing the Effects of Nonverbal Behavior Training on Accuracy in Deception Detection with the Inclusion of a Bogus Training Control Group

By Levine, Timothy R.; Feeley, Thomas Hugh et al. | Western Journal of Communication, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Testing the Effects of Nonverbal Behavior Training on Accuracy in Deception Detection with the Inclusion of a Bogus Training Control Group


Levine, Timothy R., Feeley, Thomas Hugh, McCornack, Steven A., Hughes, Mikayla, Harms, Chad M., Western Journal of Communication


Several previous studies have compared people receiving training in nonverbal behaviors associated with deception to control groups receiving no training (e.g., deTurck, Feeley, & Roman, 1997; deTurck, Harszlak, Bodhorn, & Texter, 1990; deTurck & Miller, 1990; Fieldler & Walka, 1993; Vrij, 1994; Vrij & Graham, 1997). This research implicitly or explicitly presumes the following: (a) a set of specific nonverbal behaviors exist that is diagnostically useful in distinguishing truthful messages from lies; (b) one of the reasons that research-naive people cannot accurately detect deception is because they do not rely on authentic deception cues and/or that they mistakenly rely on cues that have little diagnostic utility; and (c) peoples' judgmental accuracy would increase if the are trained to make veracity judgments based on authentic behaviors. Consistent with this reasoning, training studies have indeed found that people who are trained are slightly to moderately more accurate than people who have not been trained (e.g., deTurck et al., 1990; deTurck & Miller, 1990; Fieldler & Walka, 1993; Vrij & Graham, 1997), and a recent meta-analysis of these nonverbal training studies found that (although effects vary substantially from study to study) training, on average, increases detection accuracy by 4% (Frank & Feeley, 2003).

The most recent meta-analysis of the relationship between source veracity and specific nonverbal behaviors, however, suggests these relationships are weak, inconsistent, and limited to high motivation lies (DePaulo et al., 2003). If specific nonverbal behaviors are weak and unreliable indicators of deception, then one might question why nonverbal training improves accuracy. This paper argues that the simple act of training, independent of the training content, might improve accuracy simply because those in training conditions process messages more critically. This speculation is tested in three experiments that included both no training and bogus training control groups.

Deception Detection Accuracy

Deception scholars agree that people's ability to distinguish truths from lies tends to be significantly, but only slightly, better than chance levels. Across studies, meta-analysis indicates that the mean accuracy rate is about 57% (Kraut, 1980), and literature reviews conclude that the accuracy rates reported in individual studies almost always fall within the range of 45-70% accuracy (e.g., Feeley & Young, 1998; Kalbfleisch, 1994; Miller & Stiff, 1993; Vrij, 2000). In short, the belief that deception detection accuracy rates are only slightly better than 50/50 is among the most well-documented and most commonly held conclusions in deception research.

Several reasonable explanations exist for peoples' relatively poor performance in deception detection. For example, systematic errors and biases in judgments such as the truth-bias are well documented (Levine, Park, & McCornack, 1999). Importantly for the current investigation, however, research-naive people focus on the wrong behaviors when trying to distinguish truths from lies (Miller & Stiff, 1993; Stiff & Miller, 1986). Although no 'sure-fire' deception cues exist, some statistically reliable correlates of deception have been reported in the literature (e.g., DePaulo et al., 2003; Kraut, 1980; Zuckerman, DePaulo, & Rosenthal, 1981), as have several behaviors that research-naive receivers tend rely upon when making deception judgments (e.g., Stiff & Miller, 1986; Zuckerman, Koestner, & Driver, 1981). When comparing the 'authentic' deception cues to the behaviors that people tend to use, it becomes obvious that people are often influenced by some behaviors that lack predictive utility and people often ignore other diagnostically useful behaviors (Fiddler & Walka, 1993; Miller & Stiff, 1993; Stiff & Miller, 1986).

If there are reliable and diagnostically useful nonverbal behaviors associated with deception, and if one of the important reasons why people are inaccurate at detecting lies is because they focus on the wrong behaviors, then training people to look for authentic deception behaviors should lead to a substantial improvement in deception detection accuracy. …

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