Deception Detection

How to Detect Deception

Deception is the deliberate act, without forewarning, to manipulate information, behaviour, and image in order to create in another person a false belief or conclusion. Typically, when someone deceives, that person engages in strategic behaviour that distorts the truthfulness of information.

Deception does not necessarily require the use of words. Although many consider lying to include only outright fabrications, deception can take many forms including concealment, omissions, exaggerations, half-truths, misdirection. Even telling literal truths that are designed to mislead should be considered deception, as well. Listeners often detect the use of these strategies and become suspicious that they are being deceived.

Unfortunately, it is not all information shared in the course relational interaction or in interpersonal communication is truthful.

As a people, we sometimes employ deception to avoid the consequences of a relational transgression, to avoid getting caught for various wrongdoings, and to protect the feelings of others. For example, imagine you face the following situation:

You and your friend have agreed that you would see a new movie together during winter break. Prior to the break, however, your room mate surprises you by taking you to see the same movie you had agreed to see with your friend. What do you do when you return home for winter break and your friend comes over and says, “We’re going to be the last audience to see that movie, but I didn’t want to see it without you. Can we go tonight?”

According to Buller and Burgoon’s Interpersonal Deception Theory you have a number of methods to respond. If you decide not to tell the truth you could give false response by telling your friend how excited you are to finally be able to go see the movie.

In other words, you engage in falsification by creating fiction. Or you could say, “I changed my mind. Let’s see another movie. I heard that movie got pretty poor reviews.” You engage in concealment by keeping from your friend your real reason for not interested in seeing the movie. Or you could practice equivocation by changing the subject and dodging the issue altogether. All three response methods, however, involve deception.

Looking at things from your friend’s perspective, do you think you could spot the deception if you were in your friend’s shoes?

When we lie, we typically exert a great deal of control over how we manage information, behaviour, and image (all strategic behaviours); at the same time, some of our behaviour that is not being controlled (nonstrategic) is sometimes detected by others, depending on their motivation and skill. At this juncture, we will explore how humans detect deception and the theories that have been posited to explain deception detection.

Historical Studies on Deception Detection

The study of deception detection has a long historical background. Aristotle, Machiavelli, Darwin, St. Augustine, Kant, and a host of others have explored questions about the morality of deception and how to detect it. With the advent of technology, certain tools—such as polygraphs, MRIs, and voice stress analyzers—were devised to detect deception. Notwithstanding the availability of these tools, most deception detection is done by humans.

In legal system of the United State and elsewhere in the world, jurors are the sole determinant of honesty and believability of witnesses and the accused.

Unfortunately, humans lack a high degree of accuracy in their deception abilities to distinguish lies from truth. They rely on the person’s demeanour and manner of testifying to distinguish between truth and falsehood and are often misguided. Even deception experts such as law enforcement personnel, judges, psychiatrists, job interviewers, and auditors do not appear to detect deception with greater accuracy than nonexperts.

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As researchers strive to improve accuracy of deception detection, specific nonverbal cues, such as a lack of eye contact or foot tapping, have been identified to associate with deception and differentiate liars from truth-tellers. However, these cues are not reliable indicators of deception, as many behaviours show no discernible links, or only weak links, to deceit.

Verbal cues are only slightly more reliable, and research reveals that deceivers are less forthcoming than those who tell the truth; furthermore, their lies are less plausible, less likely to be structured in a logical, sensible way, and more likely to convey ambivalence than truthful statements.

However, given the inconsistency of these findings in the research literature, the best method of deception detection is most likely to be verification of the information presented in a message.

Theories of Deception Detection

Conversational Implicature Theory

Through a series of lectures held at Harvard in 1967, Paul GriceOpens in new window presented a theory of language use that has gain popularity as his theory of conversational implicature.

Among others, one of his principles is the quality maxim, which emphasizes that speakers should attempt to keep their contributions true, refraining from saying anything they consider false or for which they have no adequate grounds for belief.

This maxim, like Grice’s other maxims, is an assumption that communicators must maintain in order to perceive others as cooperative in a conversation. Even deliberate and obvious violations of this maxim, such as irony, require communicators to use mechanisms called implicatures to indicate that the speaker is being truthful and therefore cooperative.

Information Manipulation Theory

Steven McCornack coined the information manipulation theory in an attempt to understand the covert violation of Grice’s maxims through the use of deceptive messages.

In his argument, he offers that speakers can create messages that violate the norms of cooperative conversational exchanges either by violating Grice’s rules or by adhering to Grice’s rules but presenting the messages in such a way that the listener is misled (e.g., through sarcasm).

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Communicative Responsibility Theory

In a recent work, Kelly Aune and his colleagues presented the theory of communicative responsibility, in which they attempt to take Grice’s principles a step further by examining the process by which communicators determine what their communicative responsibilities (including truthfulness) are and how they should satisfy those responsibilities.

Interpersonal Deception Theory

Researchers David Buller and Judee Burgoon have also recently conducted a theory, named, interpersonal deception.

This theory attempts to explain how senders produce credible messages, how receivers process and judge such messages, and how the coordination between sender and receiver influences the process of deception detection. Consistent with Burgoon’s previous expectancy violations theory, the theory of interpersonal deception suggests that understanding both the structural and the functional features of communication is crucial to understanding the interactive nature of deception.