In their attempts to detect deception, people have used various methods throughout the years – most of them do not involve ordeals. While the focus of the course might be the polygraph, we must be aware of these other methods, especially ones that continue to be used today.
This is a method of detecting deception that does not involve the use of any sort of instrument. Instead, we simply use our own faculties to attempt to detect deception. It is said that most lies are fairly easy to detect if you know how to read the indications. Some people might get away with their lies, but there are ways to tell if people are lying. Some of them are the following:
- Start by asking neutral questions You can establish a person’s baseline response to questioning by asking simple, nonthreatening questions. These questions include small talk about the weather, weekend plans, anything that could elicit a normal, comfortable response. During this time, pay attention to their body language and eye movement to see how they act when telling the truth. Make sure to ask enough questions so that you can observe a pattern.
- Locate access point When the questioning transitions from the neutral territory to the “lie zone,” there could be a noticeable shift in body language, facial expressions, eye movement, and sentence structure. When telling lies, everyone gives different subconscious cues, which is why it is important to establish a baseline.
- Watch and observe body language Deceptive people often pull their bodies inward to make themselves smaller and less noticeable when lying. Many people will squirm and sometimes conceal their hands to cover up fidgeting. Shrugging may also be noticed.
- Observe micro facial expressions When telling lies, the face can potentially convey two messages: what the liar wishes to reveal and what the liar wishes to conceal. These emotions tend to emerge in the form of a micro-expression – a brief involuntary facial expression that reveals true emotion. These micro-expressions are some of the best indicators of dishonesty. However, it must be noted that a single micro-expression does not provide a conclusive proof of lying. Below are some examples:
- A change in speech patterns Irregular speech is one of the telltale signs that someone might not be telling the whole truth. This includes changes in voice and mannerisms during speech. Stammering or swearing to or before a higher power, e.g. God, could also be a signal that the speaker is being dishonest.
- The use of non-congruent gestures As defined by Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders in Scientific American, non-congruent gestures are body movements that do not match a person’s words. For example, a person might be saying “yes” but shaking their head “no.”
- Not saying enough Truth tellers are comfortable adding details to their narratives when asked for information. On the other hand, the deceptive avoid providing further details to their stories so as not to get caught in their lies.
- Saying too much On the other side of the spectrum, we have liars who say too much. They do this to persuade their audience, and even themselves, that what they are saying is the truth. Liars also tend to use more profanity and third-person pronouns to distance themselves from their stories.
- An unusual rise and fall of the vocal tone This refers to speaking in an irregular pitch. A liar may start talking at a higher or lower pitch that their normal tone when they are telling lies.
- Directions of their eyes While the assertion that people look either left or right when lying has already been debunked in a 2012 study published in Plos One called “The Eyes Don’t Have It,” it is still alleged that the eyes are a good indicator of honesty or lack thereof. Depending on the culture, a person who is maintaining eye contact could be telling the truth or lying.
- Covering their mouth or eyes Liars do this as a simple attempt to cover up their deceit.
- Excessive fidgeting For children, they might lick their lips, examine their nails, or even shake their hands before telling a lie or when caught in a lie. The same principle applies to adults. This includes tapping or drumming their fingers on the chair or other surfaces.
- Finger-pointing This could be literal or figurative finger-pointing. That is, the speaker is attempting to redirect the focus from their person to someone else.
- Self-identifying as a good liar Another study published in 2019 in Plos One called, “Lie prevalence, lie characteristics, and strategies of self-reported good liars,” those who identify as “good-liars” are a better indicator than lie detector tests. That is, according to the results of the study, those who called themselves “good liars” are those who tend to tell small, simple and clear lies to friends and coworkers. If someone brags about being a good liar, do not believe them.
Forensic professionals are trained to be able to separate fact from fiction. However, one must be aware that you are not required to be a detective nor do you need a lie detector machine to recognize lies.
Truth is subjective by nature and personal perspectives can create biases that can change what is real and what isn’t. Even the methods for detecting lies can be contradictory, e.g. saying too much and saying very little can both be indicators of dishonesty. Hence, no one should rely on a single technique when attempting to detect lies, especially for personal or law enforcement purposes. Each situation is different and each should be handled with appropriate caution.
Non-Verbal Behaviors to Monitor
Detecting deception using non-invasive means is based on voluntary supplied information and “leaked” information. Along with these leaks, subjects may also provide nonverbal cues, such as diverging expressions or postures, when lying.
The key assumption underlying these observations is that a person, when knowingly lying or deceiving, enters a psychological state that is different during honesty. These states are assumed to affect both verbal and nonverbal communication channels.
These are the main types of behaviors to observe:
- Emblems These are hand gestures that have a predetermined meaning, yet they are not part of any formalized sign language such as the ASL or the American Sign Language. Common examples are best illustrated in the following emoji: 👍👌👎. These hand signs have a culturally agreed-upon meaning or meanings.
- Illustrators As the name implies, they illustrate the verbal message with which they are associated. For instance, you could point your finger upwards when mentioning “going up.” Unlike emblems, these usually do not hold their own meaning and are mostly done involuntarily and instinctively. When talking face-to-face, these help people understand each other better. Yet, some people still do them during phone conversations as these flow naturally from the speaker without them thinking about it.
- Adapters These are touching behaviors and movements that indicate internal states such as arousal or anxiety. They can be directed at oneself, objects, or other people. They tend to emerge as a result of uneasiness or a general sense of not being in control of our surroundings. Scratching, hair-twirling and fidgeting are common examples of self-touching behaviors. In class, during meetings, or while waiting, many people do this unconsciously in the form of pen clicking and leg shaking, among others, in order to relieve stress. Today, it is common to see people fiddling with their smartphones to help them relax.
This last type of nonverbal behavior serves no real purpose during communication and often detract from it. Hence, they could also indicate deception as they could be showing anxiety from the speaker due to the questioning.
Early Scientific Methods of Detecting Deception
Friedrich Anton Mesmer, from whose name we derive the word mesmerize, pioneered this approach in 1778. His work was based on animal magnetism, which was shown to provide a healing effect on his audience.
The word hypnosis itself is derived from the Greek word, hypnos. It means sleep. While it is common in popular culture to depict someone undergoing hypnosis as being made to sleep, the name is actually a misnomer since the participant is really being forced into a reduced state of awareness while still being awake. This is why James Braid, a Scottish surgeon and one of the founders of modern hypnosis, attempted to retract the name when he realized that it had nothing to do with sleep, making the name rather deceptive.
Other famous personalities who studied hypnosis include Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison.
Initially, hypnosis was almost discredited because the work of Mesmer turned out to be inaccurate. However, it has been found that the phenomenon was only not explained well, but does exist. Currently, this technique is used by every branch of the military, professional athletes, and politicians. It was accepted by the American Medical Association in the 1950’s.
Word Association Test
This is a psychological method introduced by Sir Francis Galton in 1879. In this method, the subject is given a word and responds with the first thing that comes to mind. It is a highly-acclaimed subtle strategy that is said to be able to catch out liars.
Galton’s experiments were later developed by Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychologist and the founder of analytic psychology.
Dr. Edward Mandel House, a US physicist, diplomat, and confidential advisor to former US president Woodrow Wilson, pioneered the process. It involves the use of a drug called hyosine hydrobromide (Scopolamine) hypodermically given in repeated doses before delirium is induced. When interrogated in this state, subjects are said to be truthful.
This drug was first “discovered” by obstetrician Dr. Robert House. He observed that the drug would put patients into a state he called “twilight sleep.” Under this state, patients readily delivered information. He theorized that this could then be used as a “truth-inducing drug” that could be used to interrogate criminal suspects and have them tell the truth. His experiments showed that the chemical disables subjects from lying as it keeps them from using the brain’s thinking abilities.
Under international law, however, these drugs are deemed unconstitutional and immoral. Furthermore, they are classified as a form of torture. Nevertheless, it was reported in 2008 that this was used by Indian police interrogators to arrest the gunman responsible for the Mumbai attacks, demonstrating the continued use of so-called “truth-inducing substances.”
Narco-Analysis or Narco-Synthesis
This method is similar to the previously mentioned method wherein it involves the use of drugs, such as sodium pentothal, scopolamine, or sodium amytal, to induce different stages of anesthesia in the subject. The subject then becomes hypnotized during which the subject can become less inhibited and is more likely to disclose matters they wouldn’t otherwise.
The major disadvantage of this method is that certain people can maintain their ability to deceive even when they become hypnotized, while others can become highly suggestible during questioning. Hence, you cannot really be certain what is really going on in your subject when using this method.
Additionally, an investigator with a false agenda might question a subject in such a way as to elicit incriminatory answers.
In the age of evidence-based medicine, this method is discredited as no study backed its claims.
Psychological Stress Evaluator
The principle used in this method is the same as that used in the polygraph machine where it is said that the body behaves differently when the person is telling the truth from when a person is attempting to be deceitful. Except, instead of using the heart rate, pulse, electric activity, etc. of the body, the psychological stress evaluator (PSE) is based on voice analysis.
The video above shows a voice analysis expert manually analyzing a recording. The PSE, on the other hand, is a machine, but it basically operates in the same way.
This method is similar to using the truth serum and narco-analysis in that it utilizes a drug in order to induce the “truth” from a subject. Once again, getting a subject drunk before questioning is based on the idea that people become truthful when they are in an altered state.
This is a detection method that can only be used when investigators have sufficient information that only the perpetrator and the investigators could have known.
Suspects are presented with words, phrases, or images on a computer screen while their brain is attached, through a headband, to a scanner.
The idea is that a guilty party would have a strong reaction to these triggers and this will be shown in the scans. In a sense, that makes this a Guilty Knowledge Test as the results are drawn from the personal knowledge of the subject and their guilt or innocence can be shown by the intensity of their reactions to details related to the incident.
While the polygraph remains the mainstream lie detection method today, brain fingerprinting is said to be more accurate by some researchers because the brain activity does not rely on factors that are more easily affected by the environment, e.g. sweating and heart rate. Of course, just like the polygraph, brain fingerprinting is also widely debated in the scientific community.
The technique was invented by Dr. Lawrence Farwell who has used it in at least one court case to determine the innocence of a man convicted of murder as well as that of their accuser. Both people where shown images of the crime scene to see which of them had seen it. The test is claimed to be 99.99% accurate and Farwell convinced the court to release the convicted person. The real perpetrator subsequently pleaded guilty.