Actions lie louder than words (revisited)
An examination of the psychological versus physiological reasons for deceit signals
By Lt. Jim Glennon, Lombard, IL (ret.)
A brief aside before we begin. I hesitate to even say this because I find many of them to be oddballs of the highest order, but the fact is I’m impressed by good professional actors because they are great fakers. Think about it. Everything they say and do on screen or on stage is essentially a lie. The words they say aren’t theirs — they aren’t the people they’re pretending to be. In many cases, they don’t believe what comes out of their mouths — they don’t personally share the views of their characters. Yet they put the paying public in some sort of collective trance. If Tom Hanks dies in a film, you are sad, partly because you’ve bonded with the character he plays, but mostly because it’s Tom Hanks. By most accounts, Tom is a real nice guy; I’ve seen him on talk shows and he’s funny, down to earth, the type of guy I’d like to have a beer with. But who the hell knows — maybe Tom is an asshole. I can’t tell, because he’s such a great actor.
What really makes the good ones great is that they have total control over their gestures, their illustrators, and their affective displays. Here is what fascinates me: Everything they say is a lie, right? But when they need to act as though they are lying, they can do that, too! They know how to change one little thing about their performance so that everyone in the audience thinks, “Wait a minute, something ain’t right. I know all this stuff is bullshit, but what he just did right there makes me think he’s lying.”
Back to reality. When people tell the truth, when they are honest and sincere, they use gestures, illustrators, and affective displays to accompany their words. In the vast majority of instances, body language naturally precedes or accompanies the words; it doesn’t follow them.
Here’s an example: You are interviewing someone about a crime committed the previous night. You ask the suspect to tell you what he and his friends, Charlie and Bob, did. He says they went for a drive together around 8:00 p.m. You then need to ask him to be specific and tell you everything — how the drive began, who was picked up, where and when, who sat where in the car, which way they drove away from the last house, etc. And you need to watch for the gestures, the illustrators, the affective displays. In most cases, gestures flow naturally and begin prior to the spoken words. But when a person is lying, it doesn’t work that way; there is hesitation, and the gestures generally follow the words.
So if the suspect says that he pulled up in front of Bob’s house and “Bob got in the back seat,” and then he points backwards as if to indicate the back seat, then he’s probably lying. Why? He is creating as he goes. The gestures are part of the made-up story, and his lie revolves around words, not the body language. Words are the focus and the body language is an afterthought.
Also, be aware of gestures and timing that change as the story unfolds. Your suspect will probably tell some truths, and when he does, the gestures will seem more natural and honest. During the creation of a lie, they will lag the words, and there may even be a total absence of gestures and body language.
Failure to answer the actual question asked:
Officer: “Did you steal the $300?”
Idiot thief: “Did I steal the $300?” or “You want to know if I stole the money?” or “Why would you ask me that question?” or “Everyone knows I would never do such a thing.”
The examples of stupid answers given by liars to questions like this are endless. Bottom line: Was the question you asked actually answered? If it wasn’t, there is a reason, which most likely is that the person is lying.
During a pat-down, an officer touches the pants pocket of a subject and notices a bulge. He asks, “Is that your wallet?”
The response is, “Ain’t got no money in there.”
In fact, the bulge was a small handgun and he used it to kill the officer seconds later. The indicator of a problem was in the non-answer. “Is that your wallet?” is a simple, closed-end question requiring a yes or a no. The suspect didn’t answer it, and what he did say made no sense.
Changing the Subject
Race Card, Personal Persecution, Prejudice
In short, when it comes to deception, look for deflection.
Verifiers, Clarifiers, Hesitators
We’ve all encountered such responses to incredibly simple questions.
Understand that if there is hesitation in answering a straightforward question like “What is your name?” that the hesitation matters. Anytime a person uses a phrase designed to verify or clarify a clear and simple question, there’s only one reason: to stall for time. So the question you need to ask yourself is: Why are they stalling? And you already know why. It’s because the person is thinking about how to answer, evaluating whether answering truthfully would be a bad thing. Honest people generally come up with their names fairly quickly; no real thought is necessary.
Is it possible this person has an unfortunate speech impediment? Sure. To figure out if that’s the case, you just have to keep talking to him. If he stutters only when answering questions that are potentially self-incriminating, then maybe you should pay attention to the totality of your immediate circumstances. Don’t dismiss the stuttering or become overly concerned about hurting the person’s feelings. Treat the person with dignity and respect, but don’t avoid the questions that cause the change in conversational pattern and cadence. Stay on him, keep asking the questions. You can even ask, “Do you have a stutter?” If he says he doesn’t, that tells you something.
Religious and Family Affirmations
Of course, God isn’t the only one called on to guarantee the truth of a statement. Children and dear old Mom are also brought into play. I had a suspect once begin a statement with “On my mother’s life . . .” So, being the smart-ass that I am, I responded, “OK, I believe you, but if I find out you’re lying, I get to kill your mother.” He then looked at me and said, in all seriousness, “OK, then not on my mother’s life, but I’m still telling the truth!”
Here are some other real-life examples that anyone with any time on the job has heard:
Remember, the more invocations they make, the bigger liars they most likely are.
Miscellaneous Lie / Guilt Signatures
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