Stephen Porter and colleagues have a paper in the April 2007 issue of Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science exploring the differences between truthful and fabricated accounts of traumatic experiences.
They examined the written accounts of students fabricating and giving truthful accounts of traumatic events and found that:
… narratives based on false and genuine traumatic events showed several qualitative differences, some contrasting our predictions. Whereas we predicted that participants would be able to produce fabricated events that appeared to be as credible as truthful accounts, we found that fabricated events were rated lower on plausibility by coders with no knowledge of their actual veracity. This suggests that mistakes in the courtroom may result from liars who are able to effectively distract attention from their stories by manipulating their demeanour and speech (e.g., tone) (p.88).
In other words, lie catchers need to focus on what is being said, and try avoid being misled by non-verbal behaviour.
In addition, attention to specific types of details in the narratives helped to discriminate honesty from deception. When relating a fabricated experience, participants were unable to provide the same level of contextual information as when relating a genuine experience. They provided fewer time and location details and their reports were abbreviated overall, despite our prediction that they may be more detailed in an attempt to make their trauma stories more credible and to elicit sympathy (p.88).
As far as I can see, the following is the only attempt to motivate participants, during the instructions for the study:
Your goal in this section is to provide a believable (but fabricated) traumatic memory report. These reports will be shown to legal professionals and students (if you consented to this aspect of the study) in future research for them to determine how credible your experience appears (p.83).
It doesn’t appear from the description of the method that participants had much time to prepare their truthful or fabricated accounts. Perhaps it is not surprising then, that the results did not confirm to the researchers’ predictions? Perhaps real life malingerers, with the results of a court case at stake, and time to practice their account, might try harder to make their stories credible, and be better at it?
Participants also completed three widely used measures: the Revised Impact of Event Scale, which measures the level of traumatic stress associated with traumatic experience, the Trauma Symptom Inventory, which measures trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist, which also screens for the presence of PTSD symptomology. Analysis of the results suggested that
…genuine and fabricated reports of trauma could be differentiated based on the patterns of traumatic stress or symptoms reported. It was anticipated that symptoms on the three measures of traumatic stress would be exaggerated when participants were fabricating. The results provided strong evidence for this hypothesis (p.88).
Abstract below the fold.
Photo credit: aussie_patches, Creative Commons License
Continue reading Investigating the Features of Truthful and Fabricated Reports of Traumatic Experiences