Methods for Increased Discernment of Deception

Getting to the Truth

A Review of Information Gathering for the Purpose of Establishing the Veracity of Certain Events with Recommendations for Application

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In consideration of the not simply punishing the guilty but in addition, for the purpose of the prevention of further crime, law enforcement officials have a significant need for information from witnesses and suspects. This information must, above all, be accurate and it must be gained by a legal means in a means that can be implemented often without extensive personnel or expense in a timely manner. Interestingly enough, despite the general regard of being regarded as “experts” and “professionals” in the information gathering business and despite varying degrees of training or experience, numerous studies have demonstrated than nearly all police officers perform at nearly the same levels as untrained civilians as they both tend to hover only slightly above that of a pure chance of 50/50. Though these studies produce somewhat varying rates, it is important to not that there is little consistent validity that certain populations are demonstrably better at detecting deception than untrained or chance selections (Vrij 2004, p. 159; Vrij, et al. 2004, p. 283; Kassin & Gudjonsson 2004, p. 37; Mann, et al. 2004, p. 137).

In gathering information, the label of “interrogation” is attached to processes if the person being questioned is viewed as a primary suspect while the more benign term of “interview” attaches to those viewed as simply a witness, potential witness or other information gathering purpose. In light of this, one might rightly assume that the chief difference in this labeling of process is the presumptions of the interviewer or interrogator. In the process of interrogation, there is generally an assumption of guilt or at least culpable knowledge for which it is quite possible for induced interviewer bias to play a significant role in the outcome (Wright & Allison 2004, p. 138; Gudjonsson 1992, p. 14). This bias is evident through the reply of one police officer in regards to this issue that, “… we don’t interrogate innocent people” (Kassin & Gudjonsson 2004, p. 36). Though it could be called an off-the-cuff remark, this is fairly typical of the extent of bias that would likely result in a false-positive type error stemming from the subsequent behaviors such as attempts at “forcing” the subject to “talk” by not necessarily physical means (Memom, et al. 2003, pp. 57-58).

Why People Lie

To answer such a question, we might just as well ask, “Why do people tell the truth”? While these are simply two sides of the same coin, the question brings us no closer to the answer except that there are a potential myriad reasons yet by viewing it in this manner, some insight is possible. For example, in teaching values to groups to young people, one method to force the consideration of ethics is to ask the question, “Why one should not steal?” This purposefully leading question generally gets responses that either indicates an element of fundamental morality such as, “Because it is wrong…” or, alternatively, some variant of a fear of getting caught and the ensuing punishment. Similar to this, in consideration of the question of “why people lie”, the same tenets likely apply, that is they do so to escape punishment or other consequences or perhaps they do so based on the idea similar to the proposition of “the lesser of two evils” as might be the case when one tells an altruistic lie to protect another or to save a relationship (Memom, et al. 2003, pp. 10-11).

In studies on lying, aside from the fact that it occurs more than one might think, there seem to be, in the minds of those who tell a lie, different types or degrees of lying depending on the stakes, the outcome and the person(s) deceived (Memom, et al. 2003, pp. 10-11). For example, if a “good thing” such as a job comes from a lie, it is more acceptable than a theft that occurs by deception. While this is likely how many people think, it is nonetheless a very slippery slope and the “good” done to one and the “harm” to another is quite debatable, depending on if one is the victim or the perpetrator.

On method of gaining insight into the decision to tell a lie that assumes rationality, that is a conscious decision that a lie is in their calculated best interest, is to utilize the combined approach of motivation theory with the same type of payout ratio analysis used in decision risk modeling. With regards to motivation, one applicable model is that of Vroom’s Expectancy Theory in which the willingness of a person to perform some action is mediated by the interaction three variables (Dreher & Dougherty 2002, pp. 34 – 36):

Valence – The degree to which the outcome is desired.
Instrumentality – The extent to which successful performance would result in the desired outcome.
Expectancy – The likelihood of being able to perform a given task.

In evaluating business decisions, companies will often construct a formal payout analysis in which the likelihood of positive outcome is weighed against the payout of success and the payout of failure. For example, the company that has a 50% chance of striking gold in a certain mine whose value is $10M but costs $1M to discover, regardless of success should rationally pursue this option which has a projected payoff of $4M (.5 x $10M less $1M expense). While this process of decision-making is easily illustrated utilizing financial examples, the fact that a decision has value to an individual is appropriate. Thus, when a person chooses to lie, they have consciously or not, evaluated their options and, from their perspective made a choice that lie outweighs the payoff of truth against the two possible “costs” of lying, that of the lie not being believed and that of being caught not telling the truth (Gonjonsson 1992, p. 21). Thus, by seeking to understand “why” and “how”, one can effectively understand “who” which aids the investigator to get inside the head of the person being questioned (Douglas & Olshaker 1999, p. 17).

The Problems of Confessions

As indicated previously, the situational context of the interrogation process combined with the fact that police officers most likely have some degree of training in conjunction with the experience of dealing with deception extensively in their daily work yield the predictable result of “disbelieving people who are innocent with a great deal of confidence” (Kassin & Gudjonsson 2004, p. 33). The well-documented presence of interviewer bias creates this situation in which only statements that support the interviewers already held beliefs (Wright & Allison 2004, p. 139). This process, in an estimated 30% of the roughly 60% of cases that in which someone confesses, leads to an eventual confession of “something” culpable (Loftus 2004, p. I; Gudjonsson 1992, p. 50; Pearse, et al. 1998, pp. 1 – 2). Like the variance in the studies citing the ability to detect a lie, there are variance indications of the extent to which false confessions are given with the true number difficult to measure (Memom, et al. 2003, p. 76).

Despite the problems in getting a true assessment of the problem, there is agreement that certain types of people are much more likely to confess than other groups. For example, youth or those who suffer from some mental disorder or diminished capacity are “prone… to provide information which is unrelable, misleading or self-incriminating” (Pearse, et al. 1998, p. 2). In data collected on real-life police interviews with the accompanying real-life consequences, research revealed four generally applicable predictors of the likelihood of a confession (Pearse, et al. 1998, pp. 9 – 13):

Age – 60% of confessors in this inquiry were under 25 while 60% of deniers were over 25.
Drug Use within the last 24 hours was just over 3x as likely to confess.
The presence of counsel reduced the rate of confessions by ? the rate as when no counsel was present.
Prison or previous documented criminal experience decreased the odds of a confession by ? as naive subjects.

With this information, it is possible to implement practices and procedures by which the pursuit of truth by managing situations in which false confessions due the subjects succumbing to perceived pressure to come up with something that will be “rewarded” is possible. These practices should likely include (Memom, et al. 2003, pp. 82 – 85):

Using more information gathering-type approaches rather than “tricky techniques” designed to elicit a confession.
Record all interviews and interrogations.
Include legal counsel that do more than simply point out administrative issues but act in the interest of the client.
Identify and require an “audit” of particularly at-risk persons.
Require additional evidence to corroborate a confession.

Discernment & Techniques: Raising the Odds of Detection

Perhaps most striking about the detection of deception is that there is no standard “Pinnochio’s nose” or nonverbal behavior that exists to signal an intent to deceive (Vrij 2004, p. 160; Memom, et al. 2003, pp. 11 – 12). This fallacy is one in which people superimpose how they might feel with how they think another should feel and, with this in mind, other indicators of deception will be examined

Most people are somewhat familiar with the typical lie detector which utilizes subtle changes in autonomic measures such as galvanic skin responses, heart rate, blood pressure and respiration as correlates of an emotional response to a specific stimulus indicated the subject is concealing knowledge. Under controlled conditions, with a trained operator and a voluntary subject, accuracy rates as high as 95% have been claimed, this apparatus in no longer acceptable in court a a sole source for conviction (Gilbert 2004, pp. 138 – 140; Memom, et al. 2003, pp. 21 – 25; Bennett & Hess 2001, pp. 160 – 161).

The use of polygraphs as well as electroencephalograms (EEG) to record the autonomic responses to questioning have made to the detection of deception, specifically the attempt to hide specific knowledge, much more difficult. As the brain is very much an organ characterized by the transmission of electrical impulses, its activity is correlated to the conscious and unconscious information it processes. One very specific component of the brainwave, upon stimulation by a question or picture, evokes an excitation in brain wave patterns to the degree that a novel meaningful stimulus can be discerned by the researcher, regardless of what the subject claims. This component, dubbed the “P300” as it is positive in direction and it occurs 300 milliseconds after stimulation, can be defeated through specific means but for the usual criminal type that does not read journals of physiopsychology, it is a very reliable detector of cognitive effort to deceive (Rosenfeld, et al. 2004, pp. 205 – 206).

This insight is somewhat complimentary to a less equipment-intensive method in which the interviewer pays close attention to the level of cognitive effort the subject is using. This is based on the reasonable assumption that a liar, in keeping their story straight, must work harder to construct a believable falsehood (Kassin & Gudjonsson 2004, p. 39; Bennett & Hess 2001, p. 160). In a truthful recollection, it is possible that details may be remembered at one point and omitted in another but the story retains the same essence. This is especially observable when the subject is questioned in a way that takes the elements out of sequential order; the difficulty in getting the details consistent takes considerable effort and is not always successful. This method of deception detection is dubbed “implicit” as one is considering the element of cognitive effort required to “keep the story straight” rather than simply if they are lying or not in order to determine the veracity of the statement(s) made (Vrij 2004, p. 172). Complimentary to this and working in the investigator’s favor is that the subject in most likely not aware of what the police know and is thus at a significant disadvantage with regards to knowing how much information to disclose and how much to withhold (Vrij 2004, p. 170). Similarly, the focal point of the investigation should be upon what the subjects says and, to the degree possible, what the subject does not say through apparent efforts to conceal knowledge.

In conclusion, as a result of both seeking to understand the “how” and “why”, a law enforcement official can better determine the ultimate culpability for a crime. In consideration of this information the following are presented as suggested methods for increased discernment of deception:

Keep an open mind – As indicated, the common view that subjects are lying only “when their lips are moving” is strong evidence of interrogator bias and is likely to find exactly what the interrogator is looking for… regardless of the truth.
You are not interrogating Pinocchio – A belief that liars fidget may or may not hold. The subject may be nervous as this could be their first questioning. They may have been drinking… ad infinitem.
Do not interrupt, do not release information unless necessary – The fact that they do not know what you know is a very good thing. This information asymmetry works to both gather more information and better evaluate it.
Do not look at the person’s face – Facial clues are unreliable, person to person, and a layer of misleading data upon the real focus, the content of the interview. Though nonverbal clues may be present, research indicates that content issues such as omissions or inconsistencies are most likely where clues reside.
Consider the amount of effort the subject is using – By using the implicit method of deception detection, more reliable, valid assessments are possible than simply trying to determine if the subject is lying.
Record the interview – This is recommended not just for later review and protection of all involved but such as step allows the interview to focus on the content.

Works Consulted

Bennett, W.W., and Hess, K.M. (2001). Criminal Investigation, 6th edition. Stamford, Connecticut: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Douglas, J. and Olshaker, M. (1999). The Anatomy of Motive. New York, New York: Pocket Books.

Dreher, G.F., and Dougherty, T.W. (2002). Human Resource Strategy: A Behavioral Perspective for the General Manager. Boston, Massachusetts: McGraw–Hill Irwin.

Gilbert, J.N. (2004). Criminal Investigation, 6th edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice-Hall.

Gudjonsson, G. (1992). The Psychology of Interrogations, Confessions and Testimony. Chichester, UK: Wiley & Sons.

Kassin, S.M. and Gudjonsson, G.H. (2004). “The Psychology of Confessions: A Review of the Literature and Issues”. Psychological Science in the Public Interest (5)2, pp. 33 – 67.

Loftus, E. (2004). “The Devil in Confessions”. Psychological Science in the Public Interest (5)2, pp. i – ii.

Memon, A. Vrij, A. & Bull, R. (2003). Psychology and Law, 2nd Edition. Chichester, UK: Wiley & Sons.

Pearse, J., Gudjonsson, G.H., Clare, I.C.H., and Rutter, S. (1998). “Police Interviewing and Psychological Vulnerabilities: Predicting the Likelihood of a Confession”. Journal of Community & Applied Psycholog, 8, pp. 1 – 21.

Rosenfeld, J.P., Soskins, M., Bosh, G., and Ryan, A. (2004). “Simple, effective countermeasures to P300-based tests of detection of concealed information”. Psychopysiology, 41, pp. 205 – 219.

Vrij, A., Evans, H., Akehurst, L., and Mann, S. ( 2004). “Rapid Judgements in Assessing Verbal and Nonverbal Cues: Their Potential for Deception Researchers and Lie Detection”. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18, pp. 283 – 296.

Vrij, A. (2004). “Why Professionals Fail to Catch Liars and How they Can Improve”. Legal and Criminal Psychology, 9, pp. 159 – 181.

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