Detecting deception: Identifying differences in liars' and truth tellers' verbal strategies

Valerie Perez, Florida International University


Deception research has traditionally focused on three methods of identifying liars and truth tellers: observing non-verbal or behavioral cues, analyzing verbal cues, and monitoring changes in physiological arousal during polygraph tests. Research shows that observers are often incapable of discriminating between liars and truth tellers with better than chance accuracy when they use these methods. One possible explanation for observers' poor performance is that they are not properly applying existing lie detection methods. An alternative explanation is that the cues on which these methods — and observers' judgments — are based do not reliably discriminate between liars and truth tellers. It may be possible to identify more reliable cues, and potentially improve observers' ability to discriminate, by developing a better understanding of how liars and truth tellers try to tell a convincing story. This research examined (a) the verbal strategies used by truthful and deceptive individuals during interviews concerning an assigned activity, and (b) observers' ability to discriminate between them based on their verbal strategies. In Experiment I, pre-interview instructions manipulated participants' expectations regarding verifiability; each participant was led to believe that the interviewer could check some types of details, but not others, before deciding whether the participant was being truthful or deceptive. Interviews were then transcribed and scored for quantity and type of information provided. In Experiment II, observers listened to a random sample of the Experiment I interviews and rendered veracity judgments; half of the observers were instructed to judge the interviews according to the verbal strategies used by liars and truth tellers and the other half were uninstructed. Results of Experiment I indicate that liars and truth tellers use different verbal strategies, characterized by a differential amount of detail. Overall, truthful participants provided more information than deceptive participants. This effect was moderated by participants' expectations regarding verifiability such that truthful participants provided more information only with regard to verifiable details. Results of Experiment II indicate that observers instructed about liars' and truth tellers' verbal strategies identify them with greater accuracy than uninstructed observers.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Communication|Experimental psychology

Recommended Citation

Perez, Valerie, "Detecting deception: Identifying differences in liars' and truth tellers' verbal strategies" (2010). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3430522.