Detecting Deception: Protest Statements

by Paul Francois & Enrique Garcia

Detecting deception in people is not an exact science; it is more of an art that comes after a great deal of practical experience. One of the ways we can hone our abilities in this area is by gaining a better understanding of what to look for. The human brain is a fascinating machine capable of reacting to stress in ways that are almost imperceptible. The key word here is almost. One of the indicators we look for in assessing deception in a subject is the Protest Statement.

Protest statements are affirmations the deceptive subject uses to convince the interviewer of his innocence rather than providing meaningful, relevant, or pertinent information. In other words, rather than answering your question directly and truthfully, the deceptive subject may respond by protesting your question. This is a clever subconscious tactic and one that is easy to overlook as the content of the protest statement itself is often true.

We'd like to give you some brief examples, each of which might be used by a subject protesting the question in order to get you to believe he's innocent:

·         I've never even thought about doing something like that

·         Ever since I started AA, I've completely changed my ways

·         I'm the president of the Rotary Club

·         I'm a devout Buddhist

·         I'm a happily married man

·         I donate X amount of dollars to a charitable organization each month

You'll notice in each of the above examples how the subject could use such a response to both evade the question being asked as well as reinforce a positive attribute she wishes the interviewer to see in her. One of the reasons this tactic is so effective in eluding even experienced interviewers, is that the content of the protest statement is usually true. If the subject tells me she is a devout Buddhist, she probably is! By paying attention to the words instead of their meaning, it is easy for one to be deceived. What the interviewer needs to learn is how to recognize protest statements and register the fact that they are often non-responsive to the question being asked - a good indication of evasion and deception.

So the next time you ask a subject a potentially incriminating question (Did you kill Joe? Did you steal the money from the bank? Did you have a sexual relationship with your 10 year old neighbor?), be sure to pay attention to whether the subject provides a direct denial or offers a protest statement instead. For more analysis of protest statements in actual suspect interviews, consider attending our 3 day Interview & Interrogation course.