Detect lies by getting the story in reverse order

The Times has an interesting piece on a police interview technique that asks the suspect to tell the story in reverse order. A recent study has found this makes it more likely that liars will give themselves away.

The research has been conducted by Prof Aldert Vrij and colleagues who specialise in the psychology of police interviews and deception.

The idea behind it is that you have to expend considerable effort when you’re lying not to look stressed and to make sure your story doesn’t contradict itself.

One way of making this less easy, is to put additional strain on your mental resources by asking you to do something more difficult with the story.

This is especially tricky for liars, because for people who are telling the truth, explaining the events in reverse order is less of an effort than for people who are making the story up.

When someone is using their concentration to do this harder task, they will concentrate less on making sure they look comfortable with their story, and so are more likely to let signs of stress slip out.

On the other hand, they may have to concentrate harder on making themselves look relaxed, and make some errors in their story.

This is known as a type of ‘cognitive load‘ interview and is routinely used in police investigations.

It’s not a sure fire way of detecting deception, because liars who are better at concentrating will be less likely to give themselves away, but it seems to increase the chances of the police working out if the suspect is trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

Deception Blog has some more information about the technique, and some links to additional coverage if you want to explore further.

Link to Times article on the technique.
Link to round-up from Deception Blog.

2 Comments

  1. Posted June 12, 2007 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    It’s an interesting idea and – quite frankly – is obvious once the theory has been pointed out to you. However, as some of those who have commented on the original Times article point out, the issue of false positives could be a serious problem if this technique is relied upon exclusively. It won’t be, of course, as even now police interviews are only a small part of an investigation, so without any evidence you‚Äôre not going to be going anywhere near a courtroom just because ‘they thought you were lying’!
    I personally think it’s a great idea when (intelligent) psychologists are employed to come up with novel ways to detect this type of behaviour and we need to see more people in power talking to experts in other fields too. These experts are infinitely more qualified to come up with ideas like this (in their own field) than politicians or ‘classically trained’ police officers. It could bring an end to the so-called movie-plot threats that people are warned of on a seemingly daily basis.

  2. adorita
    Posted June 15, 2007 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    It’s very interesting. However, I imagine there might be different degree of effectiveness due to cultural differences.
    There was an NPR special on Logic for the east and west. They found that Westerner(subjects were Americans & British) tend to think linearly, while easterner(Chinese & Japanese) think in spiral. I was born and raised in the east and I can see the difference everyday in my life in the west. I admire westerners’ ability to give speeches fluently, respond with fluidity, and deliver ideas in a step by step process. If one does not think in a linear time structure, this method might not be as effective.


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