Reviving the Myth—Nonverbal Communication and Deception Detection
Reliably detecting deception is a difficult task and one that plays a critical role for law enforcement professionals. This task is so challenging that a well-known meta-analysis has shown that people are no better than chance at discriminating truth from lies. Over the past several decades, deception research has used theoretical frameworks associated with anxiety, emotion and self-presentation to investigate a wide array of nonverbal behaviors such as hand and finger movements, foot and leg movements, self-touch and postural shifts. However, we know the difficulty of discriminating truths from lies is mitigated by paying attention to speech content and using cognitive-based interviewing strategies that induce cognitive load or enhance one’s recall of details. Isolating nonverbal behaviors from speech and cognition has failed to identify systematic and reliable behavioral cues associated with deception because approaches such as these have neglected to consider the communicative utility and cognitive aspects of nonverbal communication.
In a three-year project funded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation/High Value Detainee Group for more than $660,000, Dawn Sweet in the Department of Psychology and Communication and her colleagues are re-examining the utility of nonverbal behavior in deception detection and whether or not there are in fact nonverbal behaviors that can help law enforcement discriminate truth from lies. Given the communicative nature of gestures and their connection to speech and memory, we are considering not only this communicative nature of gestures but also the underlying cognitive processes, subsequent implications for memory retrieval, and the connection between language and action. By using strategic cognitive based interviewing techniques that enhance the reporting of information and enhance gesture production, we have evidence to show that, when established paradigms from human communication and cognitive psychology are combined, nonverbal behaviors might be indicative of veracity when cognitive-based interview techniques are used. Our research represents a paradigm shift in the study of deception detection, and early results suggest that our approach could be directly applied to training and practice in the interrogation context.