Post No.: 0754
Our intuitions can sense when someone is lying reasonably well (although how well ‘well’ means is subjective!) But no single specific non-verbal behavioural cue or any linguistic (e.g. colloquialisms) or paralinguistic (vocal tone and emphases) style is a reliable sign of whether someone is deliberately deceiving us or has feelings of guilt, which may indicate that they know they’ve committed a misdeed.
Expressing silence isn’t necessarily a tacit admission of guilt either. (It’s peculiar that while people know that when they are themselves being silent, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are themselves guilty or admitting guilt – if they sense that someone else is being silent, they’ll interpret this as a definite sign that this person must be guilty or admitting guilt(!)) Innocent people may or may not maintain their vocal objections to the charges made against them or allow their denials of guilt to be denied because they may have simply become exasperated and wish to withdraw from the threatening accusations aimed at them, at least temporarily. They may find that perpetuating the argument is completely petty or pointless; a waste of time, or they dislike confrontation even when they know they’re innocent.
Even a facial and body language that apparently expresses guilt is ambiguous because it doesn’t tell us what in particular the person is feeling guilty about. Some people will express a guilty face not because they did what they’re accused of doing but because they feel bad about themselves for seeing someone they love feel upset for any reason and not being able to stop it.
Regarding dogs – when a dog expresses a face that looks like guilt to people, the dog doesn’t understand the lecturing that’s being administered because he/she doesn’t understand human language, human morals or human rules like humans do, but does understand that the angry tone of his/her owner that’s directed at him/her isn’t good. So the ‘guilty look’ that follows isn’t necessarily because the dog knows he/she has done anything wrong, or because the dog even did what he/she is being accused of doing – but is because he/she knows that showing this remorseful face will ultimately soften the owner’s anger. It’s just like expressing ‘puppy dog eyes’ will get humans to give a dog attention, pats and food. Cute animals emotionally play humans like a damn fiddle – woof!
Can we trust everybody’s body language and vocal tone if some people can act extremely well, like professional actors?! Most people are unskilled in reading non-verbal cues anyway (e.g. most people don’t always know what ‘normal’ behaviours are when observing others reacting to extreme situations). People also use confirmation bias when presented with ambiguous cues and when there are ambiguous reasons for particular cues i.e. they’ll be interpreted as signs of guilt if one already believes the accused is guilty, and as signs of innocence if one doesn’t. Our intuitions, hunches or gut feelings therefore aren’t always reliable because of our biases of interpretation.
‘Allegations without evidence’ isn’t the moral way to settle on conclusions. And it’s always hazardous to settle on a guilty or not guilty verdict very early because the risk is then purposely and solely searching for evidence to confirm that theory whilst ignoring, dismissing or not caring to look for any alternative viewpoints with an open mind that doesn’t just merely wish to prove itself right.
Logical arguments should be favoured over gut feelings. If we’re not basing our decisions on reason then we’re logically being unreasonable. We need to be able to justify our conclusions rather than merely say, “I just have a feeling”; albeit we can sometimes rely on faulty reasoning.
We can’t psychically mind-read thus it’d be our own presumptions that are coming up with the answers if our conclusions aren’t based on anything that’s observable in the actual world out there i.e. if we don’t take our data from what’s empirical. It’s not about being ‘psychic’ with one’s instincts – it’s about being attentive, in any situation and with anyone, with your usual physical senses and being empathic.
Our own preconceptions and beliefs shape how we interpret things. So beware of comparing too tightly with your own past experiences, or with other people who appear similar to the accused and have been in similar situations, otherwise you might stereotype entire groups or ‘types’ of people who appear similar to each other (e.g. the faulty logic of ‘that person with nose piercings was found guilty for stealing; you have nose piercings; therefore you are most probably guilty of criminality too’). Treat every case individually on its own evidence. It’s hard to recognise that we’re relying on misinformation or a mis-education though. With biased reasoning, we can make almost anything seem like the truth (e.g. conspiracy theories) hence we must stay dispassionate. Therefore seek for and take into account every detail, as well as the bigger picture of what you can observe, from every possible angle. Appropriately weigh up any unsubstantiated conjectures or circumstantial evidence you hear.
The media can teach us oversimplified clichés we shouldn’t always trust. And even when the media intentionally tries not to follow a clichéd stereotype, it can in the end collectively create another cliché we shouldn’t always trust (e.g. one clichéd ‘unexpected’ plot twist is that the real villain isn’t the character we expected, which often means the villain is actually the character who appeared nice to everyone at the beginning. Consequently, some people in real life suspect kind people always have ulterior motives!)
Suspects may be physiologically aroused or nervous, or show speech disturbances or a slower or faster rate of speech under the mental workload of an interrogation, or they may attempt to hold their body language together – for any number of innocent or guilty reasons. And often the interpretations of cues appear to contradict each other (e.g. some claim that increased movement is a sign of deception while others claim that decreased movement is; although they could both actually be true as deviations from a person’s usual behaviour when behaving truthfully).
Short answers, hesitating before a response, umms and ahhs, and answers that place emotional distance between the person and the subject, like not using the words ‘I’ and ‘my’ much – all hint at fabrications.
Speech rate, latency (e.g. pauses) and the number of speech disturbances (e.g. stumbling over words) can depend on the type of lie being told. The fabrication of falsehoods, rather than just concealing the truth, is harder to do thus usually leads to a slower speech rate, more latency and more speech disturbances. So thinking more rapidly, signs of sudden increased thinking or being more cognitively involved in an answer may reveal how they’re concocting a lie on the fly. However, if a person has planned their lie, they may exhibit a faster speech rate and shorter response latencies, hence it’s not so simple. A higher pitch is apparently quite reliably correlated with deception though.
Unnatural or incongruent behaviour my reveal how they’re trying to control their body language in order to conceal the truth. Body language is context-dependent though so do bear this in mind (e.g. are they restless because the room is muggy?) Gaze aversion and smiling has no correlation with deception however. The clichés of what are regarded as ‘lying behaviours’ aren’t only mostly unreliable but are so well-known that liars, due to their concerns about the impression they’re creating, may deliberately behave in exactly the opposite way to what’s expected. So liars might consciously decrease their movements for instance; which also dispels the myth that non-verbal cues are always difficult to control. Consequently, a (loose) pattern is that decreased body movement is a sign of deception more than restless agitation.
Liars are on guard whilst innocent people may not prepare anything because they feel that they don’t need to because they know they’re innocent – thus liars can be more helpful and less nervous than expected.
Their emotions may be telling, like their fear. Alternatively, excitement, which is also called ‘duping delight’, may leak the pleasure they’re feeling inside when they’re trying to play you as a fool!
When people trust in unreliable indicators of lie detection, like eye direction or fidgeting, they typically show lower levels of accuracy whilst displaying higher levels of confidence in their lie detection. Most people believe they’re excellent detectors of lies, but people – even those employed in occupations where lie detection is seen as important – are on average no better than chance when trying to detect falsehoods because of these many misconceptions, like assuming liars are always nervous, along with a stereotyped belief of what ‘a nervous person’ behaves like.
…However, with the right training and experience (with accurate feedback), we can improve our detection rate a little bit. Training and using video replays to observe momentary, fleeting microexpressions is argued by some to be helpful, as well as looking not at a poker player’s face or upper body but their hands when placing bets. Regardless, most people still tend to be overconfident in their ability to detect fibs.
Verbal or written cues are also tricky to judge. A slip of the tongue may be a ‘Freudian slip’ or parapraxis that reveals someone’s true unconscious or subconscious thoughts? Or it could just be an innocent verbal slip-up? When reading out lots of text, we all occasionally make the odd mistake that doesn’t require analysis.
To ultimately improve your chances of spotting lies – don’t preconceive anybody. Take note of their normal and current ‘baseline’ behaviour when they’re telling the truth (with information that you can corroborate) before assessing if they express any body language and tonal deviations to this when they’re answering the questions that are relevant to the investigation.
Overall you’re looking for key changes that deviate from their usual ‘baseline’ behaviour when they’re being truthful. These are idiosyncratic to each individual but people tend to personally consistently react one way when telling the truth and react a different way when telling a lie. These differences may still be ambiguous on their own though (e.g. one can still exhibit stress when telling the truth). Knowing all these tips still won’t make it easy. If you’ve played the videogame L.A. Noire then you’ll recognise how comically exaggerated the facial animations are in order to give players a sporting chance of detecting deception via the face!
There’s constant ‘warfare and counter-warfare’ in the field of deception i.e. when people learn what others (including scientists and experts) believe dependably signals a lie, they can potentially learn to counteract that (e.g. if people think it’s all in the eyes then people will learn to be conscious of their eyes). Hence to increase the probability of correctly determining if someone is lying, some contend that we should look for multiple or clusters of body language and vocal tonal deviations.
Having said that, others contend that we shouldn’t deliberately look for non-verbal or verbal cues at all and should just leave it to our subconscious to figure out whether someone is lying – thus leading us back full-circle(!) Whatever the case, no technique is 100% reliable. Physiological responses like pulse, blood pressure and sweating are harder to fake yet even polygraph systems can be fooled. Therefore no one normally gets convicted in court from their non-verbal cues alone. Nothing is foolproof, but it’s about a balance of probabilities.
New technology is constantly being developed that promises to be able to detect lies more reliably than traditional polygraph systems – from spotting microexpressions around the eyes or mouth to performing brain scans. Yet these will probably never be close to 100% reliable. A 90% accuracy would still mean 1 out of 10 defendants on average will experience injustice. And again as people learn about how each system works, they can potentially practise techniques to at least reduce their accuracy further.
Hard evidence remains the most reliable way to establish guilt if we want to convict someone fairly.