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Studying Liars Part III

In Parts I and II of this series, we examined some of the more common verbal indicators of deception we see in subjects. Remember, this list is by no means exhaustive. It merely represents some of the things we see more often in people. Now, let’s turn our attention to some of the more common non-verbal indicators of deception we encounter.

Non-Verbal Indicators
As we stated earlier, the easiest part of the lie to control is the verbal content, what the subject actually says. It is much more difficult for the deceptive subject to conceal his stress in the non-verbal indicators he reveals to us. The anxiety of getting caught in the lie will build in the subject over time and will need to be released in some manner. One of the most common ways for the deceptive subject to rid himself of this negative energy is through muscle movement.

Anchor Movements
As you are seated, you are “anchored” in position by your feet/legs, hips/buttocks, and elbows/arms. When a subject is under stress, as he is likely to be when faced with an interviewer who might uncover his deception, he will react to threatening questions by exhibiting muscle movement that reveals his stress. For purposes of this example, let’s use a particularly pointed question like, “Did you break into the safe at Third Degree Communications?” A deceptive subject will often exhibit an anchor movement as he answers this question, and within 3-5 seconds of this stimulus will do one or more of the following: Cross his legs (or uncross them), tap his foot, slide one leg out in front of his body, adjust his buttocks in the chair, swivel the chair from side to side, lift his buttocks up out of the chair temporarily, cross or uncross his arms, begin tapping his fingers on the table, and/or reach back and scratch his shoulder. Any of these movements, and there are plenty more, suggest a nervous energy being released from the subject while answering (or avoiding) the question.

Non-Verbal Denial Only
You ask the subject a direct and pointed question and his only response is to shake his head from side to side with no verbal indication of denial at all. This subject lacks the confidence to deny directly and adamantly. This is not how the truthful person typically denies.

Hand to Face Gestures
The deceptive subject will often engage in hand to face gestures that reveal what he is really thinking:

• Hand to nose-can’t stand the smell of his own lies
• Hand to eyes-I don’t want to be here right now, this is stressful
• Hand to ears-I don’t want to hear what you are saying to me
• Hand to mouth-be careful what you say, don’t let the truth slip out

Hand to face gestures, like any deceptive indicator, must be clearly evaluated in light of the subject’s baseline behaviors. A lady at a party might nervously play with her earring, but it is not grounds to dismiss everything she says as a lie. It might be her custom and habit. These indicators will likely recede over time spent in the interview room as the subject becomes more comfortable with the professional interviewer.

Wringing Hands
The deceptive subject will often unconsciously wring his hands, folded or not, to disseminate negative energy that is building up in him. The working back and forth of the hands in a wringing fashion alleviates this pent up negative energy.

Under intense stress, the deceptive subject may engage in something called “escapism.” He will lean his head back, scoot his chair back, or shield his eyes with either his hands, arm, or a hat. This subject is trying to put distance between himself and the interviewer. The pressure is too intense for him to withstand and he psychologically withdraws in order to protect himself.

Defeatist Posture
This is the label we have given to the posture that indicates to the interviewer that the subject has given up and resigned himself to defeat. The defeatist posture is comprised of hanging the head, slumping the body forward and downward, and is very often accompanied by crying (see illustration). When the subject does this, you have said and done things correctly and it is now time to move in for the first admission. The subject is telegraphing to you that he is ready to succumb.

Remember that the skilled interviewer NEVER hangs his hat on just one or two questions. We must cumulatively evaluate the subject’s responses as a whole to come to an informed decision about culpability. We must also be mindful to clearly ascertain the subject’s baseline behavior when he is telling the truth. We must look for deviations from his baseline during our questioning. Successful interviewers take the information that they’ve learned from deceptive subjects, and elicit truthful statements from them-in fact, Nothing But the Truth! This is just a portion of the information we cover on detecting deception in our 3 Day POST Certified Course on Interviewing and Interrogation. For more information, or to register online, please visit us on the web at:

For a free copy of our Personal History Questionnaire and other forms we use, please email us at: [email protected].


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