I'm am very grateful to all the subscribers of "The Interview Room."
I get the best ideas for sections of the e-zine such as "Humor in
the Room" and my monthly articles from questions asked by our
subscribers as well as students in the classroom. One of your
fellow subscribers passed along an article to me last month about
nonverbal behavior and deception. After reading the article I was
amazed at the amount of gross misrepresentations and errors
about body language behaviors identified as reliable signs of
deception. I would estimate that roughly about 50% of what the
article claimed as deception were in fact common stress cues.
Early in my career as an investigator I had bought into these same
principles. It wasn't until I began to search in earnest for
supporting documentation did I learn about the enormous amount
of erroneous content in many such courses.
First let's make a distinction here between stress and deception
behaviors. Anyone can be under stress, show numerous
profound signs of stress and not be deceptive. Would anyone be
surprised if a rape victim would show stress during her interview?
What about witnesses to a homicide or perhaps a survivor a
horrible vehicle crash? Would any of member of the military
demonstrate stress signs when discussing the firefight they have
just survived? Just the presence of stress symptoms alone is NOT
indicative with someone who is lying. Did you interview for your
current job? Where you a little stressed out? Was it because you
were lying? The most common mistake involving the analysis of
body language is identifying common signs of stress as cues to
One of the gross errors I found in the article involved the level or
degree of eye contact a person maintains during an interview as
being a reliable marker of deception. Eye contact in and of itself
is one of if not the least reliable signs of deception. Numerous
empirical studies have supported this conclusion yet there are still
many training programs on interview and interrogation that still
profess that poor eye contact is a positive sign of deception. A
decrease in eye contact can occur when people are embarrassed
about a topic, can be a sign of disgust, and can even be culturally
motivated. Research has shown that in general, introverted or
emotional subjects do tend to decrease eye contact when being
deceptive. Conversely, extroverted or non-emotional
personalities which is frequently found about psychopaths as well
as very ego dominant personalities show a increase in eye
contact when being deceptive - these subjects literally have more
eye contact with their interviewer when they are lying and less eye
contact while being honest.
Finally, does crossing of the arms or legs mean a person is
closed to communication or being deceptive? The answer is yes
sometimes however arm or leg crossing also happens when
people are embarrassed, cold, self conscious, emotionally
withdrawn, boredom, or even in depression. The famous defense
attorney Gerry Spence tells of an incident he had involving a juror
who sat in the jury box for the whole trial with his arms crossed.
Spence related that he had attended a training seminar on body
language and deception that taught all arm and leg crossing
showed deception or closed attitude. Spence questioned the
male juror after the trial about his thoughts about the trial and his
opinion about Spence and his case. The juror was quite open and
receptive. When Spence asked why he sat with his arms crossed
in the obvious closed rejection posture, the juror purportedly
answered that he was a big man with a fat belly and that was a
comfortable posture for him.
It's about time we started questioning some of the contents of
some of our interview and interrogation courses and the empirical
accuracy of the claims they make. You should always be
suspicious of such programs which claim that any behavior is an
absolute sign of deception because no such cues exist. There are
also times when a behavior cue that is often associated as sign of
deception can be a normal behavior for a truthful person. As a
student in these programs I challenge you to start asking for
empirical proof. Don't settle for "it always works." Ask what
clinical research has been conducted and is their other supporting
research conducted by other behavioral scientists that have
confirmed the same findings. We miss 50% the lies that happen
right in front of us because of the propagation of "urban legends"
in interview and interrogation training programs.
© 2005 by Stan B. Walters "The Lie Guy®"