Thursday, February 25, 2010

Word Qualifiers

Most people are reluctant to lie outright, so they add word qualifiers to sentences to make the sentences appear truthful. In order to maintain the truth, people use words that are less assertive, reduce certainty, and weaken personal commitment to their statements. Word qualifiers tend to make deceptive statements appear true under certain parameters established by the writer or speaker. Word qualifiers include: probably, I think, kind of, like, maybe, perhaps, presumably, roughly, about, sort of, and surely. Word qualifiers can take a more subtle form. The more subtle word qualifiers typically follow short answers to direct questions. Interviewees want to appear as though they are answering direct questions but want to give themselves some wiggle room in the event of a challenge. Consider the following exchange:

CBP Officer: Do you have any flora or fauna to declare?

Visitor: No, I have no flora or fauna to declare?

The words flora and fauna are word qualifiers. The visitor may not have flora or fauna but may have plants and flowers. Each person constructs a personal dictionary for the words he or she uses. With few exceptions, people share the same or similar definitions for the words they use. The similarity of definitions allows people to communicate efficiently. The definitions of the words people use to communicate their ideas and emotions correspond, with few exceptions, to the word definitions of the intended listeners. Liars, on the other hand, elongate or restrict their personal word definitions to introduce definitional relativity. Problems arise because liars typically do not notify listeners or readers of the change in personal word definitions. The following illustrates a clever use of word qualifiers by a visitor who possesses contraband.

CBP Officer: Do you have anything to declare?

Visitor: No, nothing to declare.

The visitor is telling the truth. He, in fact, has nothing to declare. In the visitor’s mind he has nothing to declare, for if he did declare the contraband he possessed, he would be detained and the contraband seized. At this point, the officer does not know if the visitor is truthful or not. The visitor’s answer “No” is qualified by the words, nothing to declare. Truthful visitors simply answer “No” without qualification. The officer could ask the follow- up question designed to test the veracity of the visitor. For example, “Are you bringing anything into the country that you know you are not supposed to bring in?” The visitor’s response may provide clues as to the visitor’s veracity. If the visitor takes the officer to the Land of Is, then there is a high probability that the visitor is being deceptive. The unique feature of this technique is that if the visitor is telling the truth, he will less likely become offended. In fact, he may not realize that his veracity was tested.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Future in the Past

Future in the Past expresses an idea or action that a person in retrospect thought might happen in the future regardless of the actual outcome. Liars often tell investigators what they would have done and not what they actually did. The following excerpt from a legal deposition demonstrates the use of Future in the Past

INVESTIGATOR: Tell me what you were doing just prior to the accident.

DRIVER: I was driving north on Main Street. I wanted to go to the super market so I had to change lanes. I did what I normally would’da done. I looked in my rear view mirror and if I didn’t see any cars, I’d look over my shoulder to check my blind spot. If everything was clear, I’d turn on my blinker and change lanes. The next thing I knew this car hit me.

The driver did not tell the investigator what he did. Using Future in the Past, the driver told the investigator what he would have done in similar circumstances. The driver gave the investigator the illusion that he looked in his rear view mirror for cars, looked over this shoulder to check his blind spot, activated his turn signal, and changed lanes when, in fact, this was not what he actually did. Future in the Past is sometimes difficult to detect in verbal speech, especially when the word would is combined with other words to form contractions. To counter Future in the Past, investigators should respond, “I didn’t ask what you would have done. I ask you what you actually did. What did you actually do?”

Friday, February 19, 2010

First Person Simple Past Tense

The formula First Person Simple Past Tense indicates truthfulness. Truthful people retrieve information from their memory and commit to that information by using the Personal Identifier “I.” Liars, on the other hand, create information in the present tense and translate the action to the past tense to give the illusion that the information was retrieved from memory. Liars often cannot commit to the false information and omit the Personal Identifier “I” because they know the information is false. In many instances, liars will blend the truth with deception resulting in the mixed use of the Personal Identifier “I.” Each sentence should be examined for the use of the First Person Simple Past Tense to determine if the speaker or writer is committed to the activities in that sentence. The lack of the First Person Simple Past Tense does not always signal deception but does identify areas in the spoken or written communication that require further inquiry, especially if the omission of the First Person Simple Past Tense deviates from the speaker or writer’s baseline.

The following statement was written by a truck driver who mysteriously lost a pallet of three airplane tires off the back of his truck while he was driving from Los Angeles to Lancaster, California. The use of the Personal Identifier “I” deviates from the writer’s baseline and suggests deception.

(1)Arrived LA dock 18:45 loaded 3 pallets to rental truck stack bed, 2 pallets airplane tires –1 pallet with 2 boxes. (2) Departed LA dock 19:30 for Lancaster. (3) About 21:00 between top of truck ramp from I-5 to the 14 Freeway and camper pulls along side of me and tell me that a pallet had fallen out of the back of my truck. (4) And just before that when I got to the top of the truck ramp had pulled over to check straps (strike) on trucks – all 3 pallets were still aboard. (5) So when I got to Sand Canyon Rd pulled off to check load and both straps + chain was loose or off of pallets and there was only 2 pallets on truck, 1 pallet of 2 boxes + 1 pallet of 3 airplane tires. (6) So I (strikeout) turned around (strikeout) and went back toward LA looking for the missing pallet. (7) Found nothing. (8) Went onto Lancaster office. (9) Unloaded truck.

The driver omitted Personal Identifiers in Sentences 1 and 2. He used the Personal Identifier “me” and “I” in Sentences 3 through 6. The driver again omitted Personal Identifiers in Sentences 7 through 9. In this statement, the omission of Personal Identifiers is the baseline and the use of Personal Identifiers deviates from the baseline. Any deviation from the baseline signals deception. Additionally, in Sentence 3 the driver used the Present Tense “pulls” and “tell,” which also signals deception.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Spotlight Effect

The Spotlight Effect heightens a person’s self-awareness of lying or doing something wrong or doing something they perceive as being wrong. Liars tend to think that their targets readily detect their lies when, in fact, they do not. A common example of the Spotlight Effect is when a person has a small spot on their shirt. The person automatically thinks that everybody sees the spot and tries to cover it up. The act of trying to cover the spot draws more attention to the spot thus reinforcing the Spotlight Effect.

The Spotlight Effect also occurs when police officers conduct surveillance. They tend to think that the suspect identified them as law enforcement when, in fact, the suspect did not discover the surveillance. I tested the Spotlight Effect after a long surveillance. My collogue was absolutely convinced that the suspect identified him as law enforcement. After the suspect was arrested while robbing a bank, I asked him if he made surveillance. His answer stunned me back to reality. He said, “Of course, I didn’t know I was being followed. If I did, do you think I would have robbed the bank?

Skepticism heightens the Spotlight Effect. As the Spotlight Effect becomes more intense, liars tend show classic verbal and nonverbal cues that indicate deception. The Spotlight Effect is a good technique to detect deception.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lip Pursing

When a person purses his or her lips when you are talking, they have already formed a sentence in their mind that is in opposition to what you are saying. When you see lip pursing, you can take steps to counter their opposition before they have a chance to articulate their opposing idea. Once a person makes a public commitment, it is more difficult to change his or her mind because they must go back on something they made a public commitment to. You are more likely to change a person's mind if they do not articulate their opposition. For example, if you see your boss pursing his lips while you are presenting your proposal, you know that he has already formed a sentence in his mind in opposition to the topic you are talking about. Before the boss has a chance to say anything, you could say, "I know you must have some doubts about what I am saying, but I can assure that this concept is sound." You now have the advantage because you addressed the problem before your boss had a chance to bring it up himself. Using this technique will also make you appear to be a mind reader. This is a powerful technique for sales people to spot resistance to a sales pitch.

The Land of Is

Yes or No questions deserve Yes or No answers. When interviewees do not want to answer “Yes” or “No,” they go to the Land of Is. The Land of Is occupies the space between truth and deception. This grey, murky area contains a tangle of half-truths, assumptions, and suppositions. Investigators often get tangled up in the Land of Is and never obtain the truth.

The following excerpt from Clinton’s grand jury testimony in the Monica Lewinski investigation inspired the concept of the Land of Is.

PROSECUTOR: Your statement is a completely false statement. Whether or not Mr. Bennett knew of your relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, the statement that there was no sex of any kind in any manner, shape or form with President

Clinton was an utterly false statement. Is that correct?

CLINTON: It depends upon what the meaning of the word is means. If is means is, and never has been, that’s one thing, if it means, there is none, that was a completely true statement.

The prosecutor asked Clinton a Yes or No question. Clinton could not answer “Yes” or “No.” If he answered “Yes,” he would be admitting that the statement is false. In other words Clinton had sexual relations with Lewinski. If he answered “No,” he would be admitting that the statement is true meaning that he did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinski, which would be a lie, subjecting him to perjury. Instead of answering “Yes” or “No,” he took the prosecutor to the Land of Is. The prosecutor got tangled up in the Land of Is and missed an opportunity to force Clinton to directly answer the question. The prosecutor should have pressured Clinton to answer the question by saying, “I didn’t ask you the meaning of the word is. I asked you if the statement was false. Was that a false statement, Yes or No?”

The following excerpt from the police interview of the rape and murder suspect previously referenced illustrates how the suspect took the investigator to the Land of Is.

INVESTIGATOR: Did you want to kiss her?

SUSPECT: I--I--I didn’t feel--I didn’t remember feeling any attraction towards her, so...

INVESTIGATOR: Okay, Alright. Let’s move on.

The interviewer asked a Yes or No question but the suspect did not give a Yes or No answer. The suspect took the investigator to the Land of Is because the interviewer failed to listen to what the suspect said. The interviewer should have pressured the suspect to answer the question posed by saying, “I didn’t ask if you felt any attraction towards her. I asked if you wanted to kiss her. Did you want to kiss her, Yes or No?”

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Truth Bias

People tend to believe others. This phenomenon, referred to as the Truth Bias, allows society and commerce to run smoothly and efficiently. Absent the Truth Bias, people would spend an inordinate amount of time checking data collected from others. The Truth Bias also serves as a social default. Relationships with friends and business colleagues would become strained if their veracity were constantly questioned. Consequently, people typically believe others until evidence to the contrary surfaces. The Truth Bias provides liars with an advantage because people want to believe what they hear, see, or read. The Truth Bias diminishes when people become aware of the possibility of deception. The best defense against the Truth Bias is judicious skepticism.


Beginning an answer to a direct question with the word well indicates that the person responding is going to provide an answer that the person who asked the question is not expecting. For example:

PARENT: Did you brush your teeth?

The child knows the parent expects the answer, “Yes.” Since the child did not brush his teeth, he knows he cannot provide the expected “Yes” answer, so he begins his response with the word well.

CHILD: Well…

PARENT: Go brush your teeth.

Interviewers should allow interviewees to complete their answers to prevent them from discovering this technique and altering their subsequent responses.

Psychological Narrative Analysis

Psychological Narrative Analysis (PNA) is the study of word choices and grammar structures people choose when they communicate. PNA techniques identify specific words, speech patterns, and grammar structures that reveal a person’s behavioral characteristics and veracity. The eight parts of speech: verb, noun, pronoun, adverb, adjective, prepositions, conjunction, and interjection represent the building blocks for sentences. These building blocks, arranged in accordance with standardized grammar rules, form patterns that communicate information. Both truthful and deceptive people use the same grammar rules to construct sentences. When people obfuscate or omit the truth, they must use accepted grammar structures and speech patterns or their sentences would make no sense. The only difference between truthful statements and deceptive statements is the omission or obfuscation of the truth. PNA identifies and exploits these differences. PNA is a powerful tool to detect deception.