Research round-up 4: When people lie

On to part 4 of this series on research published in 2008 that I didn’t get a chance to blog about when it came out, where we take a peek at some of the new research on circumstances in which people lie and what makes them seem credible.

Part 1: Catching liars
Part 2: New technologies
Part 3: Magic

First, lying in an extreme situation: Harpster and her colleagues reported results of a study that suggests that detailed linguistic analysis of calls made to the emergency services can help determine whether the caller might have committed the homicide they are reporting:

This study examined verbal indicators to critically analyze 911 homicide statements for predictive value in determining the caller’s innocence or guilt regarding the offense. One hundred audio recordings and transcripts of 911 homicide telephone calls obtained from police and sheriffs departments throughout the United States provided the database for the study. Using qualitative approaches for formulating the linguistic attributes of these communications and appropriate quantitative analyses of the resulting variables, the likelihood of guilt or innocence of the 911 callers in these adjudicated cases was examined. The results suggest that the presence or absence of as many as 18 of the variables are associated with the likelihood of the caller’s guilt or innocence regarding the offense of homicide. These results are suggestive of up to six distinct linguistic dimensions that may be useful for examination of all homicide calls to support effective investigations of these cases by law enforcement.

Staying in the forensic realm, Tess Neal and Stanley Brodsky wondered how expert witnesses can enhance their credibility. They reported results indicating that eye contact with the lawyer cross-questioning them and with mock jurors enhances the credibility of male experts, though it does not seem to have an impact on female experts’ credibility:

The effect of eye contact on credibility was examined via a 3 (low, medium, high eye contact) x 2 (male, female) between-groups design with 232 undergraduate participants. A trial transcript excerpt about a defendant’s recidivism likelihood was utilized as the experts’ script. A main effect was found: Experts with high eye contact had higher credibility ratings than in the medium and low conditions. Although a confound precluded comparisons between the genders, results indicated that males with high eye contact were more credible than males with medium or low eye contact. The female experts’ credibility was not significantly different regardless of eye contact. Eye contact may be especially important for males: Male experts should maintain eye contact for maximum credibility.

If you’re a rape victim, however, police investigators believe you’re more credible when you cry or show despair whilst giving your evidence:

Credibility judgments by police investigators were examined. Sixty-nine investigators viewed one of three video-recorded versions of a rape victim’s statement where the role was played by a professional actress. The statements were given in a free recall manner with identical wording, but differing in the emotions displayed, termed congruent, neutral and incongruent emotional expressions. Results showed that emotions displayed by the rape victim affected police officers’ judgments of credibility. The victim was judged as most credible when crying and showing despair, and less credible when being neutral or expressing more positive emotions. This result indicates stereotypic beliefs about rape victim behavior among police officers, similar to those found for lay persons. Results are discussed in terms of professional expertise.

From detecting lying by the police to police deception: Geoffrey Alpert and Jeffrey Noble published a discussion piece in Police Quarterly in which they consider the circumstances, nature and impact of conscious, unconscious, ‘acceptable’ and unacceptable lying by police officers:

Police officers often tell lies; they act in ways that are deceptive, they manipulative people and situations, they coerce citizens, and are dishonest. They are taught, encouraged, and often rewarded for their deceptive practices. Officers often lie to suspects about witnesses and evidence, and they are deceitful when attempting to learn about criminal activity. Most of these actions are sanctioned, legal, and expected. Although they are allowed to be dishonest in certain circumstances, they are also required to be trustworthy, honest, and maintain the highest level of integrity. The purpose of this article is to explore situations when officers can be dishonest, some reasons that help us understand the dishonesty, and circumstances where lies may lead to unintended consequences such as false confessions. The authors conclude with a discussion of how police agencies can manage the lies that officers tell and the consequences for the officers, organizations, and the criminal justice system.

In everyday life, when do people think it’s ok to lie? BeverlyMcLeod and Randy Genereux’s results suggest that your personality traits influence what sorts of lying you find acceptable, and when:

The present study investigated the role of individual differences in the perceived acceptability and likelihood of different types of lies. Two-hundred and eighty seven college students completed scales assessing six personality variables (honesty, kindness, assertiveness, approval motivation, self-monitoring, and Machiavellianism) and rated 16 scenarios involving lies told for four different motives (altruistic, conflict avoidance, social acceptance, and self-gain lies). Our central hypothesis that the perceived acceptability and likelihood of lying would be predicted by interactions between personality characteristics of the rater and the type of lie being considered was supported. For each type of lie, a unique set of personality variables significantly predicted lying acceptability and likelihood.

What is the impact of lying? Robert Lount and his colleagues warned that it’s difficult to recover from an early breach of trust in a relationship:

Few interpersonal relationships endure without one party violating the other’s expectations. Thus, the ability to build trust and to restore cooperation after a breach can be critical for the preservation of positive relationships. Using an iterated prisoner’s dilemma, this article presents two experiments that investigated the effects of the timing of a trust breach—at the start of an interaction, after 5 trials, after 10 trials, or not at all. The findings indicate that getting off on the wrong foot has devastating long-term consequences. Although later breaches seemed to limit cooperation for only a short time, they still planted a seed of distrust that surfaced in the end.

And finally, a couple outside the psychology/criminology literature that may be of interest:

Next round up (part 5): research on the psychophysiology of lying.

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