The Real Secret to Detecting Lies is Not Within Body Language

Jealousy and Flirtation, 1874

Jealousy and Flirtation, 1874.

via Psyblog:

Despite all the advice about lie detection going around, study after study has found that it is very difficult to spot when someone is lying.

Previous tests involving watching videos of suspects typically find that both experts and non-experts come in at around 50/50: in other words you might as well flip a coin.

Now, though, a new study published in Human Communication Research, has found that a process of active questioning yielded almost perfect results, with 97.8% of liars successfully detected (Levine et al., 2014).

The process of lie detection has nothing to do with supposed ‘tells’ like avoiding eye-contact or sweating, and everything to do with the way the suspect is questioned.

In the series of studies, participants played a trivia game in which they were secretly offered a chance to cheat.

In one experiment 12% cheated and in another 44.9% chose to cheat.

Participants were then interviewed using a variety of active questioning techniques.

One group were interrogated using the Reid Technique, which is employed by many law enforcement professionals in North America.

It involves tactics like presuming the suspect is guilty, shifting the blame away from the suspect and asking loaded questions like “Did you plan this or did it just happen?”

This technique was 100% effective with all 33 guilty participants owning up to their ‘crime’.

A second group were interviewed by US federal agents with substantial experience of interrogation.

They were able to detect 97.8% of people that cheated — in reality all but two of 89 people.

Bear two things in mind, though:

  • The Reid Techniques’ detractors say that it can lead to false confessions.
  • Participants in this study did not have that much to lose by admitting their guilt. It wasn’t as if they’d murdered their spouses.

Continue reading to learn more about active questioning.

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  • Mark Pugner

    The key, then, to detecting lies is to assume the folks is guilty, and then waterboard it on that basis.

  • Simon Valentine

    lying?

    accusations, blame, and witchcraft.
    don’t even think about touching my algebra.
    you break you buy.
    hidden variable theory my hiney.
    more like regular civil irregularity.
    it’s all about who you want to punch in the nose.
    but don’t.

    if you want to find answers, asking questions isn’t the way.

  • Tchoutoye

    Establishing the truth is irrelevant in the US justice system, which is built around bullying suspects so that they accept a plea bargain.

  • emperorreagan

    “The Reid Techniques’ detractors say that it can lead to false confessions.

    Participants in this study did not have that much to lose by admitting their guilt. It wasn’t as if they’d murdered their spouses.”

    Nice of them to put their bias right out there. No elaboration whatsoever on why the Reid technique may lead to false confessions (because you’re putting people into a high stress situation with inescapable threat of a variety of forms of violence), but they do elaborate on why it may not reach the level of effectiveness in this study (because the stakes for lying are much lower).

    • Liam_McGonagle

      It’s a Type I/Type II error tradeoff. And they’re selling it to us like it was magic.

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