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Theories/Principles Behind Detecting Deception During Interrogation

What is Deception

Deception is commonly defined as the “act of encouraging people to believe information that is not true.” This falsehood generally misleads, hides the truth or promotes a belief concept or idea that is incorrect. Deception is often carried out due to personal gain or advantage over others. Some common examples of deception can include: lying, by stating something known to be untrue with the intent to deceive, omission, by hiding the truth to deceive, or having statements that misrepresent facts and exaggeration of content. With all these avenues where potential deception can occur, the next important question would be the importance of being able to detect deception. Having the skills to differentiate the false from facts is something integral in areas such as police investigations, court trials, border control interviews and intelligence interviews. 

What is interrogation

Alongside deception comes interrogation which is usually referred to as formal or repetitive questioning. This process of questioning is done by the police on someone who is arrested or suspected of a crime. Interrogation techniques are used to pinpoint the truth from details that the subject provides and how the subject reacts to the line of questioning. One of a well-known investigation technique is the Reid Investigation Technique, comprising of 9 steps: initial confrontation, theme development, handling details, overcoming objections, procurement of subject’s attention, handling the subject’s passive mood, presenting an alternative question, developing the details of admission and converting the verbal confession into a written or recorded document. Interrogation is a double-edged sword as, if done improperly, could lead to false confessions. Improper methods of interrogation include: engaging in behaviour that the courts have ruled to be objectionable such as threatening inevitable consequences, making a promise of leniency in return for the confession, denying the subject their rights and conducting an excessively long interrogation.

Theories involved

Fundamentally, telling and detecting truths and/or telling lies are psychologically different.There are both practical and theoretical ways used to detect lies. An example of a theoretical way to detect lies is cue theories. Cue theories is an overarching term which encapsulates and unify the general gist of ideas based on research and theories on deception detection. How truth and lies vary usually differ from theory to theory but some common examples include the emotional states felt when telling the truth and when lying, the amount of arousal in the autonomic nervous system, and the degree of cognitive load or effort naturally involved in message production. As lies require more effort to generate, and are more tiring when trying to maintain the temporal line of events in memory, cue theory states that a lying person will give off behavioural ‘cues’ that signal deception. It is also more difficult to make strategic efforts to appear honest, to conduct message planning and to pretend to have the willingness to be forthcoming. This is because lying creates greater cognitive load (Walczyk, 2013) imposed on the person lying in order to come up with the lie and to maintain the structural integrity of the lie, thus this allows for ways to catch someone and trap them in their lie.

Another common way to tell if someone is lying is to ask them to tell the story backwards or jump around the temporal order of events as liars constructing their own false stories will have a higher difficulty in retelling their story this way as it requires more cognitive processing of details and usually these details will be mixed up and confused when the order of the storytelling is jumbled. Furthermore, psychological states produced by deception are behaviorally signalled by specific observational cues such as non-verbal detection cues, observation of non-verbal behaviour and voice pitch where more highly pitched voices are used when people are lying. These cues are practical ways to detect lying, and help to mediate and explain the relationship between truths-lies and cues. However, the evidence points to divergent conclusions and challenges the validity of cue-based lie-detection (Levine, 2018). In fact, it was also found that when falsifying statements, speakers were less likely to produce the cues that listeners were looking for (Loy, n.d.).


Overall, lie detection has been an important tool to differentiate lies from facts in “police investigations, court trials, border control interviews and intelligence interviews”. Such high-risk points of context sieve out terrorists or people who aim to do harm by asking then standard questions such as what they are going to do, or what will they be using equipment for. Such questions may frighten criminals and cause them to say something suspicious through the slip of their tongue, leading to more suspicion by the security clearance personnel. The availability of such expertise in detecting deception also acts as deterrence towards criminals who are planning criminal activity. A seasoned criminal may know how to get past police interviews pretending to be innocent, yet get called back due to the suspicion of the police.


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Loy, J. E., Rohde, H., & Corley, M. (n.d.). Cues to lying may be deceptive: Speaker and listener behaviour in an interactive game of deception. Journal of Cognition, 1(1), 42. https://doi.org/10.5334/joc.46

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Levine, Timothy (2018) Scientific Evidence and Cue Theories in Deception Research: Reconciling Findings from Meta-Analyses and Primary Experiments. International Journal of Communication, 12, 2461-2479. Retrieved from https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/viewFile/7838/2374