Suspect Interviews: the Psychology of Lie Detection

Sometimes police identify a suspect for interrogation by talking to witnesses and informants, obtaining physical evidence from the crime scene, and other meth- ods of investigation. Often, however, police decide to interrogate a particular person based solely on a personal judgment they make by conducting a special pre-interrogation interview that exposes deception. In Criminal Interrogations and Confessions, an influential manual on interrogation first published in 1962 and now in its fifth edition, Inbau and others (2013) have proposed a process by which police can distinguish truths from lies. In this approach, police are advised to ask non-accusatory questions and then to observe changes in the suspect’s verbal and nonverbal behavior—looking, for example, at eye contact, pauses, posture, or fidgety movements—to determine if he or she is telling the truth.

For a person under suspicion, a police officer’s judgment at this stage is crucial because it can determine whether a suspect is judged deceptive and interrogated or presumed innocent and sent home. In theory, this approach makes sense. In fact, research shows that people on average are only 54% accurate, that training produces little if any improvement, and that police officers, psychiatrists, customs inspectors, judges, and other “pro- fessionals” tend to perform only slightly better if at all. In light of this human failing, some social psychologists are now seek- ing ways to improve people’s lie detection performance—for example, by develop- ing interviewing strategies aimed at “outsmarting liars”.

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