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How to detect a lie

by KordaMentha’s Robert Cockerell | Dec 04, 2019
I often work with internal auditors on investigations and have achieved excellent results through combining the skills of the highly trained internal auditor with the experienced investigator.

Generally speaking, internal auditors have a great eye for the telling detail. They also conduct focussed and balanced reviews, and have exemplary report-writing skills.

When it comes to the domain of the interview, however, I have noted some room for improvement, especially when considering the hugely pivotal role the interview process can play in shedding light on deception or fraud.

In order to maximise the full potential of the interview process, the interviewer needs to ask the right questions, analyse the answer correctly and consider body language.

Asking the right questions
Before commencing an interview, the interviewer needs to think about how they phrase the question, and whether it should be open-ended, probing or direct.

Open-ended questions start with words such as ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘when,’ which prompts the subject to give detailed responses rather than just a standard ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

Probing questions go into more detail about specific aspects of a response, seeking to gain more information in addition to what has been provided, while direct questions commit the responder to a piece of information, often through a question that requires a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.

Understanding verbal cues and speech patterns
The Scientific Content Analysis (SCAN) test is a verbal veracity assessment method, focussed on the analysis of speech patterns and conversational content to detect deception. A thorough knowledge of SCAN can be a genuine asset in the investigation setting, helping to shed light on potential areas of deception by analysing a person’s telling verbal cues.

The best way to adequately describe SCAN is through example. If you ask a person to think of the five things that are most important in their life at the moment, then the order in which these things are spoken (hence, come to mind) have a 95 per cent probability of being the order of priority in their life. Likewise, when people are asked to list their children, they will generally proceed from oldest to youngest. A deviation from this pattern could suggest an issue with the child who was mentioned first, i.e.: that this particular child is on the parent’s mind.

In order to avoid telling a direct lie, deceptive individuals will typically avoid answering a question by hedging, omitting crucial facts, and feigning forgetfulness and ignorance.

Deceptive people are also more likely to build their story out of their imagination, and provide “enough” information, but no more than necessary. They are economical when divulging detail,
and there is rarely any extraneous information. Indeed, detail serves only one distinct purpose: reinforcing the lie.

Watching for bodily reactions
Research indicates that a person’s eye contact will vary concurrently with the presence of stress-related arousal during deception (Horvath, Jayne and Buckley, 1993).

It has also been found that that the type of eye contact variation appears to be different, depending on the nature of the deceiver. Introverted liars show a dramatic decrease in eye contact, while extroverted deceivers increase eye contact (Walters, 1996).

Micro-expressions are also telling. They are best described as brief and incomplete facial expressions that flash across an individual’s face before the person can conceal them.

Also look for dry mouth syndrome which may result in an increase in swallowing, licking of the lips, clicking noises during speech, a bobbing Adam’s apple, or white foam (albumin) in the corners of the mouth.

During a high-pressure scenario, the body’s senses are enhanced. Changes in blood flow to the sensory organs may also physiologically account for touching of the eyes, nose, and ears during deception. A red face generally denotes embarrassment and shame, and is not a sign of aggression.

When the body is at the height of fear, blood flows in deeper through the vessels to ensure that if the person is cut during a fight, they will not bleed to death. The resulting “ghost white” appearance therefore signifies someone who is highly threatened and may attack. This person is experiencing extreme fear.

Disciplined observance of body behaviour and heightened concentration on phrasing and sentence construction, will provide interviewers with an improved capability in interviews.
It should be remembered, however, that the proper application of these techniques needs to be practised and applied over time to develop true interview expertise.

Detecting deception masterclass
Due to increasing demand, KordaMentha is now offering extended training in the detection of deception. Robert’s first session for 2020 is currently sold out, however additional sessions will commence in Melbourne on 3 March 2020 with other dates and locations to follow. For more information and to register your interest in one of our 2020 sessions across Australia, please visit the KordaMentha website.

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