Do the Questions I Ask Affect My Ability to Detect Lies?


Carol E Jordan

The average citizen imagines that all suspect interrogations look exactly like they do on TV.  We have all seen episodes of crime dramas that feature an enthusiastic detective (or federal agent) who is standing in front of the suspect, hands flat on the table, with only inches between their noses, yelling accusations at the top of their lungs.  Inevitably, the suspect tearfully offers a full confession including the reason why and justifications for their actions.  The article “The Impact of Accusatory, Non-Accusatory, Bait, and False Evidence Questioning on Deception Detection” suggests that the wording of the questions might make a difference even with none of the dramatics included.

In this study the assessors set up an experiment in which volunteers were told they were going to play a trivia game; the winner would receive a monetary prize.  One person in each group attempted to instigate cheating during the game.  Assessors questioned each participant individually after each game was complete in an effort to determine the cheaters.  Assessors approached the participants with one of the four identified methods of questioning:  accusatory, non-accusatory, bait, and false evidence in an effort to determine which method caused the most distortion of non-verbal behaviors that would result in an inability to detect deception.

Assessors found that 22 (out of 104) participants cheated, yet only 11 confessed to cheating and the assessors were 72.2% accurate in their recognition of the cheaters.  Overall, the assessors found they did not do any better at detecting deception when using one particular type of questioning.  Interestingly, the assessors did find the false evidence questioning method to be significantly (80%) more effective than non-accusatory questioning in obtaining a confession.

The textbook, Nonverbal Communication, stated that eye aversion, or a lack of direct eye contact can indicate a feeling of shame.  This feeling of shame could also be associated with deception, as the deceiver may feel ashamed that she is lying.  Therefore, one could link a lack of direct eye contact to the act of being untruthful.  This article did not indicate which behaviors the assessors were observing in order to determine truthfulness, but this would have likely been a top behavior to observe.

Additionally, the individual’s posture may indicate deception if the suspect raised his arms to cross them in front of his chest.  The individual may also become rigid, or stiff, as opposed to relaxed and calm.  The assessor may view the cross arms as though the suspect placed an invisible wall between them, and the stiffness as nervousness.  According to the text, both of these reactions might be positive indicators of deception.

Overall, this article gave me good insight into how I should approach investigations so that I might more easily uncover the truth.  While I am, by no means, an expert on nonverbal behavior, this is information that I will certainly be using in my job (and as a parent).  I hope to be able to learn more about this so that I can continue to improve my ability to work effectively through investigations.

Works Cited

Burgoon, J. K., Guerrero, L. K., & Floyd, K. (2010). Nonverbal Communication. Pearson Education, Inc.

Levine, T. R., Shulman, H. C., Carpenter, C. J., DeAndrea, D. C., & Blair, J. P. (2013). The Impact of Accusatory, Non-Accusatory, Bait, and False Evidence Questioning on Deception Detection. Communication Research Reports, 169-174.


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