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					       Seager, P. B. (2004). Detecting Lies: Are You As Good As You Think You Are?
                                 Forensic Update, 77, 5-9

   Detecting Lies: Are You As Good As You Think You Are?

                                   by Paul Seager



       Whether you are a forensic psychologist involved in a risk assessment

interview or a police detective involved in a suspect interview, you will likely be

called on to make a judgement, perhaps on a daily basis, as to whether your client or

suspect is lying to you. This also goes for a number of other professions (e.g. customs

officers, lawyers, teachers, etc.) where lies may be told on a regular basis. The

question is: how good are you at detecting lies, and how confident are you of your

ability? If you get it wrong, the consequences could be grave.

       It might be argued, and quite rightly so, that many disputed statements can be

verified by checking the facts through use of other, more objective, sources (e.g. the

suspect's so-called alibi, CCTV footage as to the suspect's whereabouts).            But

consider the case where a woman claims that it was not her intention to kill her

husband, or a patient claims that he feels fine and has no intention of committing

suicide.   Would you be so sure of your ability to detect the veracity of these

unverifiable emotional statements?

       Whilst there are undoubtedly some very accurate professional lie detectors

(e.g. see Ekman, O'Sullivan and Frank, 1999), it may come as a surprise to realise that

most of us are not as good at detecting the deception of others as we might believe.

Research reliably informs us that accuracy levels of lie detection fall between 45-60

per cent (e.g. Kraut, 1980; Feeley and Young, 1998); findings suggest that, in general,

people are no better than chance at detecting lies, which is to say that flipping a coin

might give just as accurate a judgement as spending a considerable amount of time in

making your decision.      Unfortunately, these findings have been found to apply



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      Seager, P. B. (2004). Detecting Lies: Are You As Good As You Think You Are?
                                Forensic Update, 77, 5-9

equally to professional lie detectors as to members of the public (e.g. DePaulo and

Pfeifer, 1986; Ekman and O'Sullivan, 1991).

       So, the salient questions are, how do you detect lies and how confident are you

in your ability? Do you use your intuition, i.e. your ‘hunches’, ‘gut feelings’, to

determine when a person is being less than honest? Or do you rely on verbal and

nonverbal cues to detect a lie? If you use either of these, then you might not be as

accurate as you initially thought. This article will briefly explore the use of intuition

to detect lies, the cues that may suggest someone is deceiving you, approaches to

improving the accuracy of judgements on deception and the link between an

individual’s confidence in detecting lies and the actual accuracy of their judgements.

Using Intuition to Detect Lies

       Many popular self-help books claim that the quality of peoples' decisions can

be improved by using intuition, and researchers suggest that a significant proportion

of the population view intuition as a vital tool in decision-making. Sutherland (1992),

for example, claims that people would much rather be classified as lazy and selfish

than as having poor intuitive abilities. Intuition is seen as a vital tool in many

professions, such as business (e.g. Agor, 1989) and Nursing (Rew, 1988). Dimitrius,

one of the leading jury selection experts in the United States, claims that it has always

played a major part in her work (Dimitrius and Mazarella, 1999).

       There is virtually no research, however, that backs up the claim that intuition

can improve lie detection accuracy.       Some preliminary research by Seager and

Wiseman (2002) suggests that, in fact, claiming to be highly intuitive can be

detrimental to lie detection accuracy. They tested 196 participants, of whom 96

claimed to be highly intuitive and to use their intuition on a regular basis. The

remaining 96 participants made no such claim about being highly intuitive. Using a



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       Seager, P. B. (2004). Detecting Lies: Are You As Good As You Think You Are?
                                 Forensic Update, 77, 5-9

standard lie detection paradigm (e.g. see Vrij, 2000), results suggested that the highly

intuitive participants were significantly less accurate at detecting lies than the non-

intuitive group (56 per cent vs. 66 per cent). Preliminary conclusions therefore

suggest that intuition may not be a good tool to use in detecting lies.

Cues to Deception

       A second strategy people claim to employ when detecting lies is the use of

verbal and nonverbal cues. Some have put forward the hypothesis that the reason

people are such inaccurate lie detectors is that there are no cues reliably linked with

deception. Research has suggested that this is not the case and that there are cues that

can predict deception (referred to as objective cues - see later). Further, it offers the

alternative hypothesis that people are poor lie detectors because they are, in fact,

using a wrong set of cues. These cues are generically referred to as subjective cues,

and represent a number of stereotypes that people have about the way that ‘liars’

behave. Vrij (1998) claims that there are seven cues that people look for in others

when determining whether or not they are being lied to: these are increases in speech

disturbances, voice pitch, response latencies, gaze aversion, smiling, and trunk and

limb movements (nervous shifting).

       There have been two notable meta-analyses that have analysed the findings of

a number of research studies and concluded that reliable cues to deception do exist

(Zuckerman, DePaulo and Rosenthal, 1981; Vrij, 2000). Zuckerman et al. (1981)

concluded that increases in pupil dilation, speech errors, voice pitch, shrugs, speech

hesitations, adaptors (i.e. "the amount of time either hand is moving while touching

the body during [a] response": Miller and Stiff, 1993, p.57), negative statements and

irrelevant information signified deception was present. Vrij (2000) claimed that an

increase in voice pitch and speech pauses, and a decrease in the movements of arms,



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       Seager, P. B. (2004). Detecting Lies: Are You As Good As You Think You Are?
                                 Forensic Update, 77, 5-9

hands (including finger movements), feet and legs were reliably linked with

deception.

       Taking a conservative approach and identifying the commonalities between

the two meta-analyses, an increase in voice pitch and speech hesitations/pauses seem

to be reliable indicators of deception. It should be noted though that the first cue is

very difficult to detect without specialist equipment.

       It has been found, however, that most people are unable to identify these

reliable deceptive cues. If asked, for example, most will say that they look for a lack

of eye contact from the target, and for the target to be nervously shifting as they

speak. Research suggests, however, that these two cues are not reliably linked with

deception (and in some cases, the opposite may be true). In fact, there are a number

of these subjective cues, and they are not always the cues that should be looked for.

       Looking for the cues that people believe to be linked with deception and

which research has reliably shown to be linked with deception, only an increase in

voice pitch comes to the fore. This could explain to a great extent the reason why

people are poor lie detectors. Nevertheless, if it is possible to identify reliable cues to

deception, is it then possible to improve detection accuracy?

Can Detection Accuracy Be Improved

       Findings from this area of research are mixed, but there is some indication that

‘cue’ training can improve detection accuracy, despite Bull's (1989) initial scepticism

(based on the then lack of empirical evidence) about the claims of efficacy of such

programs. For example, deTurck and Miller (1990) found that training to look for

certain cues (such as response latency and message duration) gave rise to higher

levels of accuracy (61 per cent) when compared to participants who received no such




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        Seager, P. B. (2004). Detecting Lies: Are You As Good As You Think You Are?
                                  Forensic Update, 77, 5-9

training (53 per cent)1. Other studies, however, have found no such improvement in

accuracy due to training (e.g. Kohnken, 1987).

         As well as cue training, other methods have been identified as having some

benefit in increasing detection accuracy. For example, the 'baseline' method has

showed a consistent increase in detection accuracy levels, and involves the observer

being exposed to an example of a target's honest behaviour before having to make a

decision about their disputed testimony. Feeley, deTurck and Young (1995) exposed

observers to varying amounts of a target's honest behaviour before asking them to

make judgements about disputed testimony.                    They found that compared to no

exposure to honest behaviour (56 per cent), observers were significantly more

accurate when they were exposed to the target's honest behaviour four times (72 per

cent accuracy), twice (66 per cent accuracy) or only once (63 per cent accurate).

         There have been other methods that have attempted to improve detection

accuracy, such as looking at individual differences regarding decision-making, and

reducing cognitive overload. Research is also currently underway at the University of

Central Lancashire to investigate ways in which lie detection accuracy can be further

increased.

Confidence Levels

         A final aspect to consider about lie detection is the link between confidence in

one's ability to detect lies and actual accuracy levels. Overconfidence can lead to

potentially severe consequences (such as being so confident that your patient is lying

to you about their suicidal intent that you deprive them of their liberty). In general,

most members of the public freely admit to being less than confident in their lie

detection ability, and it may be that this candour can, on occasion, stop them from

1
 This increase in accuracy occurred despite neither of these cues being identified as a reliable cue to
deception by the two meta-analyses referred to.


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      Seager, P. B. (2004). Detecting Lies: Are You As Good As You Think You Are?
                                Forensic Update, 77, 5-9

making bad judgements.        Regrettably, such is not the case for lie detection

professionals, such as the police, who have been found to register high levels of

confidence in their lie detection ability (e.g. DePaulo and Pfeifer, 1986). It has been

argued that, given the finding that these professionals are generally no more accurate

at detecting lies than members of the public, this overconfidence might lead to serious

consequences: Vrij and Mann (2001), for example, claim that such misplaced

confidence might lead officers to be less thorough in attending to potential liars (e.g.

paying less attention to the details of their interviews which, in turn, might cause them

to disbelieve a suspect's protestation of their innocence as opposed to believing them).

       Research has reliably found that there is no correlation between confidence

levels and detection accuracy (e.g. DePaulo, Charlton, Cooper, Lindsay and

Muhlenbruck, 1997). Based on these findings, the serious consequences that might

result from the issue of over confidence cannot be over-emphasised, especially in a

courtroom setting where juries have been found consistently to believe the accounts of

witnesses who sound and behave in a confident manner.

Conclusions

       In general, it is important that those making lie detection judgements are

aware that they may not be as accurate at detecting lies as they initially believed.

Such awareness might prevent potentially serious consequences.          In general, the

advice would be to avoid reliance on intuition and stereotypical cues to deception

(when in doubt, don't be afraid to consult research in this area), and to remain aware

that overconfidence in your ability to detect lies might result in serious consequences.

Good practice would be to find out how a person acts when they are being honest

(such as meeting them where possible in a relaxed, informal setting and asking them




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       Seager, P. B. (2004). Detecting Lies: Are You As Good As You Think You Are?
                                 Forensic Update, 77, 5-9

questions about which they would have no reason to lie), and to use this as a baseline

for deciding whether a disputed statement is a truth or a lie.



References



Agor, W. H. (ed.)       (1989) Intuition in Organisations: Leading and Managing

Productively Newbury Park, CA: Sage



Bull, R. (1989) Can Training Enhance the Detection of Deception? In Yuille, J. C.

(ed.) Credibility Assessment Kluwer Academic Publishers; London



DePaulo, B. M. and Pfeifer, R. L. (1986) On-The-Job Experience and Skill at

Detecting Deception Journal of Applied Social Psychology16, 249-267



DePaulo, B. M., Charlton, K., Cooper, H., Lindsay, J. J. and Muhlenbruck, L. (1997)

The Accuracy-Confidence Correlation in the Detection of Deception Personality and

Social Psychology Review 1, 346-357



deTurck, M. A. and Miller, G. R. (1990) Training Observers to Detect Deception.

Effects of Self-Monitoring and Rehearsal Human Communication Research 16, 603-

620



Dimitrius, J. and Mazzarella, M. (1999) Reading People USA: Vermilion




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      Seager, P. B. (2004). Detecting Lies: Are You As Good As You Think You Are?
                                Forensic Update, 77, 5-9

Ekman, P. and O'Sullivan, M. (1991) Who Can Catch a Liar? American Psychologist

46, 913-920



Ekman, P., O’Sullivan, M. and Frank, M. G (1999) A Few Can Catch a Liar.

Psychological Science 10, 263-266



Feeley, T. H. and Young, M. J (1998) Humans as Lie Detectors: Some More Second

Thoughts Communication Quarterly 46, 109-126



Feeley, T. H., deTurck, M. A. and Young, M. J. (1995) Baseline Familiarity in Lie

Detection Communication Research Reports 12,160-169



Kohnken, G.      (1987) Training Police Officers to Detect Deceptive Eyewitness

Statements: Does It Work? Social Behaviour 2, 1-17



Kraut, R. (1980) Humans as Lie Detectors Journal of Communication 30, 209-216



Miller, G. R. and Stiff, J. B. (1993) Deceptive Communication London; Sage



Rew, L.       (1988) Intuition in Decision-Making IMAGE: Journal of Nursing

Scholarship 20, 150-154



Seager, P. B. and Wiseman, R.        (2002) Can the Use of Intuition Improve Lie

Detection Accuracy?       Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the British

Psychological Society



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      Seager, P. B. (2004). Detecting Lies: Are You As Good As You Think You Are?
                                Forensic Update, 77, 5-9




Sutherland, S. (1992) Irrationality: The Enemy Within London: Penguin



Vrij, A. (1998) Nonverbal Communication and Credibility. In Memon, A., Vrij, A.

and Bull, R. (Eds) Psychology and Law. Truthfulness, Accuracy and Credibility

London: McGraw-Hill



Vrij, A. (2000) Detecting Lies and Deceit Chichester: Wiley



Vrji, A., Mann, S. (2001) Who killed my relative? Police officer’s ability to detect

real-life high-stake lies. Psychology, Crime and Law 7, 119 - 132



Zuckerman, M., DePaulo, B. M. and Rosenthal, R. (1981) Verbal and Nonverbal

Communication of Deception.         In L. Berkowitz (Ed.) (1981) Advances in

Experimental Social Psychology New York: Academic Press




Dr Paul Seager is a Senior Lecturer with the Forensic Psychology Research Unit,

University of Central Lancashire




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