May I Have Your Attention Please

Cognitive interviews are often preferred because of the explicit information attained. An interviewer will typically focus on temporal and spatial questions to elicit this information. So, once your interviewee’s descriptive verbiage begins, how do you know if you are receiving completely accurate information?
Ramp up the cognitive load and the verbal and nonverbal deceptive cues will emerge! Whoa, not so fast. What if your interviewee is completely comfortable telling tall tales? Requesting temporal and spatial details may not trigger extra cognitive load. They may rely on

established schema or rehearsed scenarios to dilute the effects of extra mental strain.
However, splitting their attention may do the trick. Diverge from maintaining eye contact and flip flop around with questions that do not seem to follow a normal sequence. This split-attention effect will make relying on schema more difficult and “new” scenarios will need to be created, for those interviewees with deceptive tendencies. In turn, cognitive load will be induced and deceptive cues will emerge.
What about interviewees telling the truth? This technique will also induce mental strain, but most truth tellers usually respond to cognitive load with less descriptive and shorter answers. If they receive positive feedback from the interviewer, the cognitive load will also be lessened. Unlike the deceptive interviewee, the truthful interviewee is not pressured to monitor feedback, verbiage, and possible deceptive cues.


The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

Anyone who has ever testified in court as a witness has sworn to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.  Does this mean all testimonies given in a court of law are 100% truthful?  Well, the intent is usually to tell the truth, but testimonies sometimes turn and go down a slippery slope.  Honorable intentions are not necessarily impervious to deception.  Knowing the difference between deception and a lie is a good place to start.

During the art of persuasion, deception may interject by way of fabrications, exaggerations, omission of details, misleading information, or speculation.  Lies, on the other hand, are intentional falsifications.  Think of a mountain with steep north and south sides, and sloping east and west sides.  Denials are deliberate falsifications or lies, located on the opposite, steep side of the mountain, from truthful statements.  Fabricated statements may contain both truthful and false elements; therefore, placing fabrications on the sloping east/west sides of the mountain.

A person can begin a testimony on the truthful side of the mountain and easily move to the steep east or west sides of deception, by using speculation, omission, misleading, and exaggeration (S.O.M.E.) of details or wording.  As an expert witness, be careful not to accidentally slip.


Memories of the Future

Coined by David Ingvar, memories of the future, refers to our intentions.   As proactive beings, we make plans and follow them to guide our behavior.  While gathering snippets of our past experiences, we try to anticipate outcomes of possible future actions.  Therefore, we depend on these schemas to direct our actions, resulting in desired behavioral outcomes that do not imitate past experiences or present realities.

The general consensus has been that deceptive behavior is more cognitively demanding than truthful behavior.  However, more recent research is pointing to truthful intent as more cognitively demanding than false intent.  How so? You may ask.  Conceptualizing truthful intent requires not only planning for the future but also recalling memories of past actions and their corresponding behaviors and reactions.  Then, our proactive selves digest this information and anticipate possible future actions with desired behavioral outcomes. Whew! Talk about cognitive load!

The prefrontal cortex, which means “at the front of the cortex”, is our corporate executive of the brain.  Its tasks include, but not be limited to, executive control, conflict monitoring, emotion, and working memory.   Hmm…so, maybe the cognitive load approach to interviewing is not the golden ticket, if determining veracity of intent is the interviewer’s objective.

If the above assumptions are correct, a truthful interviewee could exhibit more deceptive behavioral cues, such as pauses or exaggerated details, than a deceptive interviewee.  This might occur as a result of the multi-layer cognitive processing when creating truthful ‘memories of the future’.  Remember, false statements, especially fabricated statements, may contain some truthful content; however, the deceptive person’s goal is not to unintentionally reference past actions, which could associate them to a particular phenomenon in question.  To prevent this from occurring, deceptive persons typically shy away from referencing memories and their associated behavioral responses,  when creating false statements of intent.



5 Common Cues to Deceptive Nonverbal Behavior

  1. Facial expressions
  2. Body language
  3. Psycho-physiological responses
  4. Thought processes
  5. Written communication

Darting eyes, crossed arms, and flushed necks are all signs of deception, right?  That is absolutely, positively not always the case.  Mounds of research pinpoint specific cues to deception, yet most researchers agree multiple cues compared to baseline behaviors are needed to suggest acts of deception.  Behavior is unique to individuals.  Similarities exist, but unique identifiers, combined with content and contextual associations, are key.

Deception detectors often focus on cues for deception, while ignoring the truth bias approach.  Assume everyone is telling the truth unless convinced otherwise.  Know your subject’s truthful nonverbal expressions.  Open-ended conversation with verifiable questions interspersed is a helpful exercise.

Truth-tellers sometimes exhibit deceptive cues in their attempt to convince others of their veracity.  The lack of continuity, when recalling incidents, can be perceived as deceptive when in fact it is often quite the opposite.  Non-spontaneous deceptive behavior is a rehearsal of determined incidents including temporal (time) details. Whereas, truthful comments can be sprinkled with spatial and temporal details, not always mentioned in the correct order.  In other words, backtracking is common in truthful statements, where anxiety and cognitive load are factors.

Lastly, in a world of touch screens and laptops, handwritten communications are sparse.  Recent research points to benefits of tell-all written statements and structured cognitive-behavioral interviews.  Handwriting is brainwriting.  Cognitive dissonance is not just for verbal communication anymore!  Verbal pauses and various types of deception are not only visible but measurable in handwriting.



First impressions are mind imprints which occur within microseconds.  Unfortunate for some, not all impressions elicit a wave of emotions.  Language content, voice speed and inflection, facial expressions, and body language may impact your career or love life, more than you know .  Is this possible when we retain approximately 10-30% of what we see and hear? Oops! Don’t forget about your other senses.

Verbal and nonverbal behaviors are communicated and received consciously and unconsciously.  Our senses never take a coffee break.  Descartes said “I think, therefore I am.”  Not to pick on the great 17th century philosopher and mathematician, but perhaps, “I sense, therefore I am” would have been more accurate.  My first reading teacher told me to use all of my senses to memorize my spelling words.  I laughed when I imagined sniffing my spelling book!  Little did I know, by using both sides of my brain to process and interpret information, I could boost my memory and recall.

Wow your receivers with facts and figures, splashed with sensual cues.  Analytical and creative minds alike depend on the right side of the brain to interpret nonverbal cues, along with feelings and visualizations.  Excite their whole brains and make a lasting impression!