The usefulness of verbal and nonverbal cues to deception for use with young suspects

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The literature is voluminous in discussing nonverbal cues (NVC) and verbal cues (VC) to deception. The scientific soundness of deception theories is based on the application of the anxiety assumption to the procedure of lying. In this instance, both NVC and VC to deception are viewed as links of anxiety with the existence of lies. This pathway is doubted in principle. There are lies that do not cause anxiety since the source of anxiety is not always the lie itself. However, the deception research is continuously growing in an interesting way since the ability of successful lies’ detection seems to be viewed as an achievement of heightening the human intelligence. Getting in the world of NVC and VC to deception, one could stress that both of them are generally useful. In this assignment, an attempt is made to compare and contrast their usefulness when used for the purposes of interviewing young suspects in the real forensic context. This discussion will lead to the conclusion that there is a gap between the deception science and the forensic context, and new approaches are needed to bridge it.  


The nonverbal cues to deception

The theories of NVC to deception are attractive. They are based on the belief that there are behaviors unaware to the liar which are indicative of deception (Vrij, 1998; DePaulo, Stone & Lassister,1985). The NVC to deception are approached from three perspectives distinctively or simultaneously; the emotions and the cognitive load that the liars experience during lying as well as the liars’ efforts to manipulate their own behavior to be appeared as truthful (Ekman & Friesen, 1972;  Ekman, 1992; Ekman, 1997; DePaulo & Kirkendol, 1989; Hocking & Leathers, 1980). In this instance, the NVC to deception may be cues of emotions (i.e. fear, guilt, etc), cognitive load (i.e. complexity of the procedure of lying), or efforts of manipulation (i.e. forming specific facial expressions, etc). It is further believed (Muraven & Baumeister, 2000) that the liar even, deliberately attempting to control his/her behavior, he/she could not do so to all his/her behavior at the same time.

The NVC are observed when these internal procedures are externalized through the kinesiology of the body or the face, usually called “body language”, or through the produced sounds. So they can be visual or auditory but in the absence of speech or any verbalization (Puce, 2013).  The means of receiving the NVC is mainly the human observation or senses; they can also be received instinctively, consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally. In this instance, they may lead to the thought that they are scientifically vague and highly subjective as to their identification and then their interpretation (Akehurst, 2012; Vrij, 2008b). In the attempt of maximization of their scientific value NVC became more susceptible to technological approaches, which permit them go beyond the human observation and take a hyper-human extension (i.e. analysis of facial micro-expressions by the use of software, etc).

Focusing on the NVC that are received through human observation it seems that in the mind of everyone there is a picture of a known liar. This picture is constructed by personal images, experiences and knowledge about liars, and it usually leads to a list of cues (i.e. gaze aversion; sweaty fingers, blinking eyes; increased pitch of voice, etc), which are believed to be linked with lying behavior. Beyond the “personal liars” and the tendency of generalising the application of the known cues to deception, there is the question as to whether any of these cues are scientifically linked with lying behavior. The research about NVC to deception has debunked some of the myths about the stereotypical liar (Hurley, Griffin & Stephanone, 2014). It is now known that there is not a common lying body language. For instance, it was found that their liars displayed less gave aversion and fewer smiles, body movements and speech disturbances than their truth-tellers (Granhag & Strömwall, 2002), and that gaze aversion is not a safe NVC to deception (Vrij & Semin, 1996; Vrij, 2000).

The scientific value of NVC is traditionally measured through the accuracy rates in detecting deception relying on NVC. The accuracy rates are usually measured in the laboratory where the subjects are instructed to tell a pre-known lie (Kraut, 1980; DePaulo, Stone & Lassister,1985; Vrij, 2000). The higher accuracy rates of detecting the truth-tellers led to the conclusion that people’s ability to judge other’s signals is truth-biased (Vrij, 2000). The professionals’ ability was also measured to score around or slightly above the level of chance (Vrij, 1993; Ekman, O’Sullivan & Frank, 1999). The lack of a standard method for identifying the differences between liars and truth-tellers when relied on body language or the uncertainty of body language gave room to the research of VC of deception.


The verbal cues to deception

The VC are more systematically developed than the NVC, and they are viewed as more objectively and accurately diagnostic of deception. It is believed that deception can be deceived through language, that there are VC that are indicative to deception, and that the knowledge about them improves the ability for their detection (DePaulo,Lindsay, Malone, Muhlenbruck, Charlton, & Cooper, 2003; Sporer, 2004, Vrij, 2008). The VC could be spoken or written. Importantly, the spoken cues of deception are not necessarily written cues to deception if they are transformed into written words, and vice versa (Picornell (2011). In any case, VC have a verbal content, which is analysed by text or content analysis, based on lexical or syntactic or other para-verbal features, and making classifications as to the quality, quantity and overall impression (DePaulo, 2003). In this instance, the helpful software of Linguistic Inquiry and WordCount (LIWC) was also invented (Pennebaker, Booth & Francis, 2001), and commonly used.

There are the traditional Statement Validity Assessment (SVA) with the employment of the Criteria-Based Content Analysis (CBCA) (Vrij, 2008b), and the Reality Monitoring (RM) approach (Johnson & Raye, 1981; Johnson, Foley, Suengas, & Raye, 1988; Vrij, 2008b). The CBCA are based on cognitive and motivational factors following the hypothesis that the statement about a real event should be different in content from a statement about an imaginary event (Bogaard, Meijer & Vrij, 2013). The RM is based on aspects of memory. There are also other suggested tools (Bogaard, Meijer, Vrij, Broers, & Merckelbach, 2013), like the Scientific Content Analysis (SCAN; Sapir, 1996) with less defined list of criteria. There are also computerized ways of assessing truthfulness (Williams, Talwar, Lindsay, Bala, & Lee, 2014). Focusing on SVA and RM, it should be mentioned that SVS research was reviewed by Vrij (2005) to assess the veracity of children’s testimonies in trials for sexual offences. Vrij (2005) discussed the effect of age in the application of CBCA, including in the sample much younger ages. The conclusion was that SVA evaluations are not accurate enough to be admitted as expert evidence, apart from their usefulness in police investigations. Further, RM was found as a useful alternative to CBCA for the dissociation of liars from the truth-tellers (Vrij, Akehurst, Soukara & Bull, 2004). RM is based on the presumption that the true memories have a different quality than the false memories so that they would be recalled from a perceptual basis, using more sensory information instead of references to cognitive procedures. Masip, Sporer, Garrido and Herrero (2005) in their meta-analytic review concluded about the effectiveness of RM on the classification of veracity statements.

Generally approaching VC, they are referred to pre-listed reliability criteria. In these terms, the detector normally begins with a presumption of falseness of a statement, and she/he tries to recognize, interpret and account the pre-known cues to truth (i.e. unique words, self-references, words’ repetition, etc) to make a veracity decision. This “reversed” starting point of detecting deception by the use of reliability indicators is itself problematic and may create truth-biases in the same way as in NVC. To this observation are related the research findings which suggest that indeed CBCA criteria are more likely to be confirmed when the investigator knows the verbal account is true as Griesel, Ternes, Schraml, Cooper and Yuille (2013) recently summarized.


NVC versus VC to deception and the forensic context

VC to deception were viewed as more useful than NVC in the course of police investigations, particularly in truth/lie discrimination (Vrij, 2008a). Apart from the progress done, the science remains contradicted concerning VC to deception (i.e. how many words the liars use; whether they use more negative emotional words or phrases, etc) as also happens in NVC to deception (Picornell, 2011, 2013). In addition, it seems that there is not even a common answer as for the reasons for which there are conflicting research findings (Picornell, 2013). Even though the criminal justice system would be based more safely on VC to deception rather than to NVC, and CBCA are already used in Courts of other European countries (Köhnken, 2004), it could not be said that VC are more “useful” than NVC. Further, it is necessary to mention that both VC and NVC are just indicators. The deception usually does not take place in a single moment or movement or word. The process of deceiving is characterizing by continuity; the criminal procedure as well. The deception may take many different forms at the many different stages of the criminal procedure (Zhou, Burgoon & Twitchell, 2003; Picornell, 2011, 2013), where also the communication is never limited to only verbal or only nonverbal. The CBCA were not designed either to dissociate the truth-tellers from liars, or to have application independently of the SVA. They constitute credibility rather than truthfulness assessment method (Picornell. 2013). These are viewed as added reasons for which they are not well-trusted by the judicial system.

As concerns generally VC to deception, emphasis should be put on the fact the people usually speak differently than they write. They may also externalise visual cues, which are contradicted to the content of their verbal accounts. Actually, in the criminal procedure the suspects usually are not handed a piece of white paper and a pen to write down their account and what they are thinking by themselves. They are usually interviewed orally, and their oral accounts are transformed into written statements. Therefore, the VC as concerns the written statements of the suspects, which are used for the research experiments, they are not genuine written VC to deception. It is stressed that it would not be safe to apply oral VC to the textual content (Picornell, 2013). The usefulness of written VC in the criminal procedure is usually asynchronous. It is further limited to the content of texts which are either written in the past by the suspect or unrelated to interview about the offense committed.

One of the main reasons for which one could accept that NVC and VC to deception should be used in the forensic context is the necessity to decrease the incidences of false confessions (Davis & Leo, 2014). It becomes even more difficult to dissociate the lie from the truth, when this is internalized by the suspect who is based on false memories (Kassin, 2007). However, beyond this accepted necessity, the judicial system needs to be based on firm research findings. The content of a proposed lie about personal guiltiness cannot be compared to a lie about a cinema movie. The most of the NVC and VC research studies, although helpful, use as subjects amount of students or other people who are instructed to tell a simple lie. From this starting point, one could observe many other disparities. People involved in the criminal justice system as suspects are usually more knowledgeable. They are able to employ more deceptive methods and broader variety of the known NVC or VC. Further, the research shows that when people are told about the cues that are linked to lying, then they may try to control their behavior or language so that to manipulate the impressions of their interviewer or observer about the truth (Porter, Doucette, Woodworth, Earle & McNeil, 2008). Therefore, it is an inescapable thought that today everyone could have easy access to a variety of information including information about cues that the linked to deception. This parameter creates doubts about the relevancy of the existed deception research with the needs of the judicial system. The suspects in the real forensic context usually know the issue for which they will be asked about, and they have the time to work with their internal states before being interviewed or repeatedly interviewed (Granhag & Strömwall, 2002). The emotional, cognitive and even physical situation of suspects may affect their internal states. It would be methodologically impossible to say that the source NVC or VC to deception is the lies themselves and not their fearful knowledge of the consequences of being caught out or sent to prison (Akehurst, Manton & Quandte, 2011). In the same line of thoughts, it would not be useful for the criminal justice system to accept some scientific evidence without firm foundations of relevancy as this would put in danger the procedural austerity of the procedure, as well as the justice itself.

Speaking about the procedural austerity, it should be said that, irrespectively of the application of CBCA in the Court of other European countries and in police interviews with adults, it should be remembered that the suspects who are children in England and Wales (and soon in Europe) have specific procedural rights. These rights alone may prevent the preparation of full truthfulness assessments based on NVC or VC during the whole procedure. Additional thoughts are imposed when the suspects are young people. Particularly, youths often involve in group offenses where they may plan the content of a lie with their offending pairs and manipulate their within-pair consistency, in order to create an impression of truth (Vredeveldt & Wagenaar, 2013). In this instance, the tools, which are invented for eliciting cues from single subjects, are not enough to detect the truth since the meaning of consistency plays an important role (Roos af Hjelmsäter, Öhman, Granhag & Vrij, 2012; Lingwood & Bull, 2013; Chan & Bull, 2013). In this instance, Chan and Bull (2013) found that co-offender planning affect the VC being associated with the statement immediacy, the plausibility and the within-pairs consistency.

One could think that the talent of younger people for hypocrisies is imperfect, even though they can access the internet and know how to avoid being caught out, because of their emotional, social and bodily immaturity. Although children are not so developed as adults, in terms of their cognitive, emotional, social capacities, and nonverbal expressional characteristics, they are convincing liars. Actually, children are convincing liars from their earlier ages, and their detection remains a difficult task also during their changing development (Lee, 2013; Talwar & Crossman, 2012; Field, Malphurs, Yando, Bendell, Carraway, & Cohen, 2010). Williams, Talwar, Lindsay, Bala, and Lee (2014) commented that even though both CBCA and RM are useful in discriminating lies from truths, they are both designed to analyse lengthy statements while children usually provide short statements. They further commented on the amount of training that CBCA requires in order to be applied in comparison to RM which requires less training. They set the question about the point of preparing lengthy guidelines for the application of these methods, when the technology suggests more tools. Finally, they applied the LIWC in children’s narratives, even though the shortness and poorness of children’s statements remained a knowingly serious limitation in this research (Williams, et. al. 2014). 

After discussing all the above, the objections, which are raised for reliability and accuracy of these truthfulness assessments, are almost the same for both NVC and VC approaches. They concern the effectiveness of NVC and VC to deception in the real forensic context and to young children (Vrij, 2008b; Vrij, Akehurst, Soukara & Bull, 2002; Porter & Yuille, 1996). They also concern their methodological inability to dissociate people who may suffer anxiety symptoms because of other individual or situational factors, instead of trying to fabricate a story in the predictable way (Vrij, Akehurst, Soukara & Bull, 2004; Akehurst, Manton & Quandte, 2011). These assessments also lack good and solid empirical evidence, related to the features of the forensic justice, without rejecting their usefulness in anticipating the phenomenon of false confessions (Davis & Leo, 2014).


Ta subjective gap between psychology and law

As a result to the existed limitations of deception research, the criminal judges may reasonably view the deception research as an improper influence (Brownsell & Bull, 2010), in terms that judging the veracity of statements and witnesses is a traditional work of judges, who decide so by using broader judicial criteria. Continuing this thought, according to the judicial criteria, the lie is not a subjective condition. In other words, in criminal justice there are not “liars” and “truth-tellers”, as personal labels. The lie in judicial procedure is a condition of inconsistency of a statement or condition, which, as a result, is not accepted as being truth, instead of something identifiable or that should be specifically identified (Vredeveldt, van Koppen & Granhag, 2014). Eliciting and naming cues to deception is more relevant to good lawyering. When searching for truth, evidence or a part of it could be rejected if it is inconsistent with the rest of the evidence and the available facts. However, the “inconsistency” is again a very misunderstood term in the relationship between psychology and law. The law and justice are social tools, and their purpose is to balance the needs and rights of people in a society; therefore, to maintain the social coexistence and peace. In this instance, the terms that used in law, like “inconsistency” or “justice” or “right” are viewed not so scientifically, but in a broader way and within the competence of lay people (Green, 2014). On other words, the conclusion of a judge “I believe x” does not have the meaning of “x is the truth-teller” (thus someone else is the liar). It means “society needs to believe x, irrespectively if s/he is telling the truth or lies, why and to what exact extent”.

The judge usually diagnoses the truth of the facts or the objective truth. The isolated statements and the lies contained in these may affect the attempt to construct the objective truth, but without leaving any characterisation to people (i.e. liar). Australian McCellan (2006) also referred to the uneasy relationship between psychology and law in interpreting human behavior, because the law has its own interpretative criteria, which are not black or white, lie or truth; they can be something in the mean. This relationship was characterised by Coyle and Thomson (2013) as “a can of worms”. In these terms, one could think the VC, which start from the reliability criteria, are more relevant to this judicial order as judges also seeks for the truth. However, it is believed that a new definitional approach is needed about deception and consistency in the forensic context to bring the gap between psychology and law, in order to be able to talk about relevancy (Picornell, 2013).


The new challenges and the conclusion

Combining the different techniques of detecting VC and NVC to deception might be an alternative approach to improve their usefulness and get assisting for the judicial work (Vrij, Edward, Roberts & Bull, 2000; Vrij, Akehurst, Soukara & Bull, 2006; Akehurst, 2012). The criminal procedure is consisted of repeated interviews (i.e. investigation, examination in chief, cross-examination, etc) (Saykaly, Talwar, Lindsay, Bala, Lee, 2013). The adversarial system of conducting the trials offers good opportunities for applying the interviewing techniques for detecting deception (Coyle & Thomson, 2013). A suggestion should be for more tested tools for eliciting or enhancing clues to deception through interviewing and correspondence-based procedures (i.e. by manipulating the cognitive load in any different situation, and observing the changes, etc.), instead of trying to catch specific VC and/or NVC to deception (Vrij & Granhag, 2012; DePaulo & Bond, 2012). Focusing on investigative interviewing techniques, Nahari, Vrij and Fisher (2014) recently suggested that the verifiability approach could also benefit lie detection.

The diachronic failure of science to investigate a standardized tool for detecting deception is an obstacle for recognising and measure the usefulness of NVC and VC in the forensic context, which has developed its own tools for interpreting human behavior. Both VC and NVC to deception are useful, particularly at the stage of police interviewing as already discussed, but they are not enough to gain the trust of the forensic context as concerns young suspects. Moreover, they cannot subrogate the judicial decision making about the truth. The new challenging detection deception approaches for young suspects and fresh definitional approaches could bridge the gap between deception research and forensic context, at the same time by regulating the intervening role of psychology in the judicial decision making about truth.





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