Enhancing the Accuracy of Detecting Deception

Recognizing the cues and patterns associated with incongruities between content and context empowers us to uncover the truth and foster trust in our interactions and relationships. By paying attention to these practical strategies and understanding the underlying psychology of deception, we can significantly improve our ability to detect lies and make more informed judgments.

Josh Ether

5/8/20203 min read

When it comes to identifying deception, it is crucial to pay close attention to the alignment between the content and context of messages. The concept of synchrony and asynchrony plays a significant role here. It involves evaluating whether the verbal and nonverbal cues complement each other or if they diverge. Inconsistencies in these cues can provide valuable clues to detect deception.

One common example of incongruity is when someone verbally denies something while nodding their head in agreement. These slips, where individuals catch and correct themselves mid-way through a statement, can serve as important indicators of deceit. This observation is so reliable that even polygraph tests employ this technique. Polygraphers often interpret catch and correct behaviors as admissions of guilt, demonstrating the diagnostic value of such cues.

Additionally, delays between verbal and nonverbal responses should raise suspicion. For instance, if someone states "I didn't do it," but follows it with a negative head swing, this asynchrony signals something is awry. When emotions and behaviors fail to align, it becomes a valuable learning opportunity, urging us to delve deeper into the matter at hand.

Instances where behaviors deviate from what is expected can also point towards deception. For instance, if an individual reports a kidnapping but delays reporting it or crosses county lines to report it in a different jurisdiction, these incongruent behaviors should trigger suspicion. This misalignment indicates a potential hidden motive or deceptive intent.

Much of this incongruity arises from discomfort. While anxiety was previously mentioned as a specific form of discomfort, it encompasses a broader range of emotions. Liars generally desire the interaction to conclude promptly, evident through their frequent clock-watching or attempts to hasten the meeting's end. They may abruptly cut short interviews or exhibit visible satisfaction when disruptions occur. They might even actively seek opportunities to redirect the conversation and change the topic. This discomfort often manifests as a desire to create distance, such as leaning back, leaning away, or engaging in eye-blocking behaviors—closing their eyes as if mentally escaping the uncomfortable situation. These signs of discomfort should prompt us to question why the person is feeling uneasy, leading us further down the path of uncovering potential deception.

Artificial barriers are another manifestation of discomfort. Deceivers may place objects like backpacks, crossed hands, or pencil holders as psychological buffers between themselves and the interviewer, providing them with a perceived sense of personal space due to their discomfort.

Deceivers are particularly invested in self-presentation. They constantly strive to create positive impressions, not only during dates or interviews but also in various settings, be it at work or home. However, their efforts to project honesty and credibility often veer into exaggeration. Deceivers may go to great lengths to counteract any perception of anxiety. For instance, they might sprawl out on a couch or yawn excessively, pretending they are completely at ease. In extreme cases, they may resort to substances like alcohol or drugs to artificially reduce their anxiety, resulting in behavior that appears disoriented. Deceivers may employ statements like "I never lied to you" or "let me tell you the truth" in an attempt to convince others of their honesty. While such phrases can be used colloquially, their unusual or excessive use suggests overcompensation in self-presentation. Understanding the underlying motivation behind such statements can shed light on potential deception.

Deceptive individuals often employ additional tools to manage the impressions they create. Group attendance is one such strategy where deceivers bring along friends, family members, or prominent individuals from the community to influence the perception others have of them. They might change their appearance, putting extra effort into their clothing or hairstyle, to project an image of care and concern about how others perceive them. It is worth noting that some appearance changes can be indicative of deception.

The cognitive load associated with lying leads to various cognitive cues that can be observed. Deceivers often use pause fillers such as "ums" and "uhs" to buy time and think through their responses. They may take longer to answer questions, as if they are stalling for time or constructing their narratives. On the other hand, there are instances when deceivers respond too quickly, anticipating questions and delivering instantaneous replies, which can be a red flag. Other cognitive load cues include increased stuttering and reduced gesticulation as deceivers focus more on the content of their words rather than accompanying nonverbal gestures. Comparing these cues to an individual's baseline behavior in normal conversations can reveal stark deviations, serving as strong indicators of deception. Pupil dilation is another potential cue, although it is more challenging to detect naturally in everyday communication.