Examining word count and word choice works well
for analysis of text, such as interview transcripts, 911 call
transcripts, witness and suspect written statements, and
in analysis of written evidence such as emails and social
media posts. Research is still needed to understand how
well investigators can pick up these cues in real time, says
Research is also examining the communication between co-conspirators by exploring how two or more people interact as
they try to deceive interviewers (Human Factors: The Journal of
the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2012).
“In field situations, such as checkpoints and street corners,
people conspire and collude to get away with crime and
terrorist acts,” says psychologist James Driskell, PhD, president
of the Florida Maxima Corporation, a company that conducts
research in behavioral and social science.
“If two people are lying, they have to concoct a story that
is consistent with their co-conspirator so they don’t arouse
suspicion,” says Driskell. “If an officer needs to engage them on
the street, it would be useful to know what indicators to look for
in their responses.”
Compared with truth tellers, when liars tell their story
together they tend to not interact with each other and they
are less likely to elaborate on each other’s responses, he says.
“Truthful dyads are much more interactive as they reconstruct a
shared event from memory,” he says.
Culture and context
While recent lie-detection research has centered on verbal
reports, there is still a role for behavioral cues in deception
detection research, says David Matsumoto, PhD, professor
of psychology at San Francisco State University and CEO of
Humintell, a consulting company that trains people to read
Behavioral cues might change depending on the types of
questions asked and the interview circumstances, he says.
“Researchers need to take into account different investigative
contexts and circumstances that might elicit different
One context Matsumoto has studied is culture. In recent
research, he found culture-specific differences in tone of voice
and vocal characteristics. For example, his research shows that
Chinese participants tend to speak in higher pitched voices
when lying compared to truth telling whereas Hispanics tend
to speak in lower pitches when lying compared to truth telling
(International Journal of Psychology, 2015).
Leanne ten Brinke, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at
the University of California at Berkeley, also considers context in
her research, but focuses on how people may unconsciously spot
Ten Brinke conducted preliminary research to explore how
indirect measures of deception compare to direct, or conscious,
measures. In one study, research participants watched videos
of truth tellers and liars and then classified words such as
“dishonest” and “deceitful” versus “honest” and “genuine.”
“The trick of the task is that images of the people in the
videos were subliminally flashed while participants classified
the words,” ten Brinke explains. She found that participants
were faster at classifying words associated with lying when
flashed images of liars. The same was found for pairs of
truthful words and images. In contrast, when making conscious
judgments, participants were accurate only about half the time
(Psychological Science, 2014).
While the concept of unconscious deception detection
is a relatively new direction in research, it highlights one
more of the diverse areas psychologists are exploring. These
expanding directions in research have resulted in novel
investigations that might finally lead to accuracy rates above
“A lot of research is flying in the face of law enforcement
training and common beliefs,” says Meissner. “As we conduct
more research, we will learn more about deception detection.
This research has enormous potential to revolutionize law
enforcement, military and private sector investigations.” n
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