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Audience: Police officers, detectives, investigators, customs officers, and other law enforcement officials; intelligence professionals; polygraph specialists; forensic science educators, attorneys, journalists, and psychologists.
Praise for the second edition: "The authors have described a very generalizable and useful interviewing technique that is easy to learn, simple to use, and can significantly improve the ability to discern truth from deception in a manner that is both interesting and engaging." —J Police Crim Psych (2008) 23:45-47
The need to detect deception is hardly a twentieth-century phenomenon; humans have always needed to distinguish between the trustworthy and the untrustworthy. Agreed, to some small extent there is an inherent conflict in that both truth and deception have their places: they are necessary for individual and social survival. There are times when truth serves a socially destructive purpose or when small truths aren't useful in a larger context. However, in the great majority of cases, deception is used to hide or disguise the truth to the detriment of society. The question is, how can we separate harmless lies from harmful ones and, more to the point, harmful lies from necessary truth? Those for whom the lies are useful work against solving the problem. They know that for the lie to do its job, it must not be detectable—or, at least, not detectable before escape or attack is possible.
Ever since small familial groups of humans banded together for mutual social benefit, or for protection of person and property, humankind has been plagued by individuals whose practices deviate from the societal covenant. The activities of these individuals, if not checked, could and sometimes did destroy the societal group as a whole. Given that, the ability to detect lies to identify individuals who cannot be trusted has been vital to both physical and social survival. The search for a reliable means to identify the untrustworthy is as ancient as humankind. Some techniques were founded in superstition and/or the religious belief that a moral god would in some way reveal the truth and disallow immorality. Many of these attempts, in fact, had some psychological or physiological basis; other methods relied solely on fear of continued pain and torture.
What is interesting about human behavior is that it has not changed since Biblical times. In fact, the very first clue to human behavior appeared in the Book of Genesis. It is the story of Eve influencing Adam to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. Having eaten it, Adam and Eve were imbued with knowledge and realized they were naked. When they heard God's voice, they were ashamed and hid themselves. God asked Adam why he was hiding. Adam replied that they were naked and ashamed. God asked Adam how he knew he was naked: did he eat from the fruit that was forbidden? Adam replied, "The woman Thou gave me made me eat thereof." When God asked Eve about that, Eve stated, "The snake beguiled me into eating the forbidden fruit." Although the authors are paraphrasing the story, it is obvious that things have not changed much since the Garden of Eden. Persons accused almost always look for someone else to blame for their situation. Often, it is the victim they blame. This is an excellent example of how humans rationalize to escape punishment and conceal the truth.
The earliest form of lie detection probably was trial by combat, resolving an issue through strength of arms. In primitive hunting tactics, it was not uncommon for hunters to shoot an arrow or spear into an animal that would only wound it. The hunter would then track the wounded animal until it died either from loss of blood or from the poison often used on the arrow tip. Consider the problem of two primitive hunters who approach a fallen prey. Each believes it was his arrow or spear that killed it, and that it belongs to him; they refuse to compromise. As simplistic as it seems, each sees himself as making a truthful claim and the other as not. To decide the "truth," which actually means possession, they engage in combat. The ideal assumption is that the individual with truth on his side will prevail. However, the most cunning and skilled of the combatants usually was victorious and thus declared himself as having the rightful claim.
This scenario had changed very little by medieval times. It was then customary that knights engaged in mortal combat to decide whose lord was in the right in any given controversy. Although the practice was functionally the same as trial by combat, the ethical premise was different. It was held that the knight representing the truth would be victorious because of "divine intervention"—that is, that a just God would not allow injustice to prevail.
Even today, on any given weekend night, a police officer may be called to a club or bar where two men are about to engage in combat to determine which of them is telling the truth about whom the woman seated between them is really with. As you can see, the test of "trial by combat" lives on.
The next development in the search for truth was trial by ordeal. It was once again assumed that God would intervene on behalf of the innocent; that is, God would protect any innocent individual from harm, as was the case with Daniel in the lion's den. Although these attempts to detect truth appeared to be laden with religious beliefs, they were in fact based on practical observations of both psychological and physiological phenomena, which play an important role in truth-finding processes.
For example, in China, in approximately 1000 BC, it was common practice to have an accused person chew a handful of crushed dry rice, and then attempt to spit it out (certainly not much of an ordeal). If the rice became wet, and therefore easy to spit out, the person was considered truthful. If the rice was dry and it stuck to the suspect's mouth when he tried to spit it out, then he was thought to be lying. Divine intervention was not involved in this outcome as much as was the salivary gland. This somewhat benign test was based on the physiological phenomenon of inhibited salivary gland activity caused by fear or stress. The truthful individual had normal salivary gland activity, causing the rice to become wet and easy to spit out. The stressed or deceptive person had a dry mouth, and the crushed rice in his mouth remained dry and when he attempted to spit it out it stuck to his mouth. It is unclear how the Chinese arrived at their test for truth—whether they merely observed that liars' mouths remained dry, or had some understanding that the autonomic nervous system inhibits salivation and all digestive processes when an individual is under serious threat. It should be noted that Chinese traditional medicine has been around for some 5000 years.
Interestingly, testing for a dry mouth was, and still is, found in a wide range of unrelated cultures worldwide. The most severe version of these tests often consisted of putting some kind of red-hot metal object on the tongue. If the person were truthful, the normal saliva in the mouth protected the tongue, acting as a "heat sink" to dissipate the burning. If the person were lying, the mouth would be dry, and the hot metal would burn the unprotected tongue. Even today, in some countries in the Middle East, it is common that the accused in minor cases can choose this traditional method to assert his innocence.
In various societies, truth tests were developed whose premises were psychological, not physiological. Trial by the "sacred ass" is a classic psychological test that was practiced in India around 500 BC. In this test, a donkey was staked out in the center of a pitch-dark hut. The suspects were told that inside the hut was a "sacred ass" that could differentiate between a truthful person and a liar. It did this by braying only when the guilty (lying) person pulled its tail. They were also told the animal would remain silent if an innocent (truthful) person pulled its tail.
Each suspect was directed to go into the hut alone, with specific instructions to pull the tail of the "sacred ass." What the suspects did not know was that the priests had covered the donkey's tail with lamp black. A truthful individual, having nothing to fear, entered the dark hut and pulled the donkey's tail. The donkey may or may not have brayed, but those who were innocent came out with soot all over their hands. A guilty party, on the other hand, would enter and, not wanting to risk disclosing his guilt, would not touch the donkey's tail. He might promise it a carrot, or stroke its head, but he would not pull the tail. After all, he believed if he did not touch the tail of the "sacred ass," it would have no reason to bray, and the priests would incorrectly identify him as truthful. The elegantly simple truth was that because he did not pull the tail, it was easy for the priests to properly identify him as the culprit by his clean hands.
In the 1950s, rumors have it, the Philadelphia Police Department had a detective division that innovated an interesting psychological test for truth. The suspect was seated in a chair. One detective stood behind him holding a thick telephone book; the other one stood directly in front of him. The latter detective informed the suspect that he was going to ask him some questions, and as long as he answered questions truthfully, there would be no problem. The suspect was also told, however, that if he lied, the detective standing behind him would hit him in the head with the telephone book. "It won't leave any marks," he was told, "but it will hurt like hell!" The detective would then begin with some irrelevant questions: "Is your name James Smith?" "Were you born in Pennsylvania?" "Do you reside at 412 Mercy Street?" Then the detective would ask a strong relevant question: "Did you steal that missing deposit?" and they would observe whether or not the suspect flinched or ducked as he answered the question, indicating he anticipated being hit with the phone book because he was lying. This was an involuntary reflective reaction that would only occur when a person knew he was lying and anticipated being hit.
Society's next advancement in its search for truth was trial by torture. This had a dichotomous effect for law enforcement. Every crime could be solved by confession; unfortunately, it was not always solved by identifying the actual perpetrator of the crime! The assumption was that the innocent suspect would withstand any amount of suffering to preserve his reputation and, in religious societies, his immortal soul. In reality, given enough pain, any man might confess, and most torturers knew that. The "trial," in fact, became indistinguishable from the punishment itself and was justified in that the "truth seekers" found almost everyone guilty. Trial by torture was the method of justice during the infamous witch hunts and inquisitions in Europe.
These latter are of particular interest, because they did not have as their basis the seeking of truth. Rather, the method addressed a perceived threat from forces whose existence could not be proven. Thus, trials by torture were not always designed to find truth, but sometimes to justify and validate the prejudices and fears of the society and the claims of its leaders. Such "trials" were commonplace during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and continued into more recent periods when people believed that witches or some other group (e.g., Jews, Communists, reactionaries, homosexuals) threatened the social order.
In the past, there were two ways in which an inquisitor attempted to prove a person was a witch :
1. By finding the "Devil's Mark," or
2. By getting a confession.
The Devil's Mark was an alleged spot on a witch's body that showed she had been attached to the Devil (much as we have a navel where we were once attached to our mothers). Although the Devil's Mark was invisible, it could be found because it was a spot on the witch's body that would not bleed. Suspected witches were tied down and continuously pricked as the inquisitors searched for the spot. It is not known how many witches were discovered by finding the elusive mark; however, many "witches" confessed during the process. Unfortunately, trial by torture is still used today to solve "crimes" by confession, the solution of the crime being of greater importance than whether the suspect is guilty or innocent. This was unfortunately demonstrated when treatment of detainees and prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other holding areas by United States interviewers and interrogators was revealed . More about torture is found in Chapter 14 of this book.
As civilized societies searched for a more just and credible way to separate the innocent from the guilty, trial by torture lost credibility and was replaced by trial by jury. Although the jury in its early form was not made up of one's peers, it is the origin of our judicial system in which the "Finder of Fact," either a judge or a jury of peers, listens to evidence introduced by witnesses. The Finder of Fact then decides the defendant's guilt or innocence based on some standard of proof.
As is still the case in our current judicial system, this involves the evaluation of objective facts—that is, data that can be confirmed physically—and the testimony of competent witnesses and experts. The latter involves the subjective interpretation of the witnesses' credibility and/or expertise by the judge or jury and, among other things, is subject to manipulation by a clever liar. Although the jury system proved more humane and more just, the Finder of Fact's inability to separate truth from deception in complex cases leaves it seriously flawed.
The infamous Dreyfus case, in which a Jewish-French army officer was falsely convicted by fabricated evidence and a prejudiced court, focused attention on the need for a better means of detecting liars and their fabrications. That need was experimentally addressed in a series of scientific attempts beginning in late nineteenth-century Europe. By this time, the scientific community had a basic understanding of the autonomic nervous system. Scientists understood the physiological changes that occurred in the human body caused by fear and stress and correctly assumed that those changes would occur when a suspect experienced the fear of being caught in a lie. The research centered on finding a reliable and timely means of measuring those changes.
In the early 1890s, Angelo Mosso, an Italian physiologist, studied the effect of fear on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Mosso was particularly interested in measuring circulatory flow changes in the body. He developed a mechanical device known as the "Scientific Cradle," often called "Mosso's Cradle." This device was nothing more than a balanced, table-like platform, mounted on a fulcrum.
Mosso theorized that the flow of blood to the head changes during emotional stress, such as that caused by fear of detection. This, he believed, explained why a person's face flushes or whitens during emotional states. He theorized that this sudden change of blood flow to the brain caused by fear would result in a slight shift in the subject's body weight, and thus a corresponding measurable movement of the cradle.
Mosso proposed he could analyze the lines drawn on the kymograph and determine the credibility of the witness. There is, however, no evidence that Mosso ever put his theory into practice. In all probability, the device was too crude and unreliable to make the kind of measurements that Mosso would have needed.
In 1895, Cesare Lombrosso, an acquaintance of Mosso, applied the use of more precise instrumentation sensitive to changes in volumetric displacement to measure emotional changes and detect deception. Lombrosso postulated:
It is well known that any emotion that makes the heartbeat to quicken or become slower causes humans to blush or pale. These vasomotor phenomena are entirely beyond our comparative. If we plunge our hands into the volumetric tank invented by Francis Frank, the level of the liquid registered on the tube above will rise and fall at every pulsation. Besides these regular fluctuations, variations may be observed which correspond to every stimulation of the senses, every thought, and above all, every emotion.
The "volumetric glove," developed by Patrizi, was considered an improvement over the volumetric tank. The suspect put his hand in a sealed rubber glove filled with air. Changes in air pressure due to heart pulsations were then recorded on a Marey tympanum and on a revolving cylinder covered with smoked paper.
Lombrosso's daughter writes in The Criminal Man:
My father sometimes made successful use of the plethysmograph to discover whether an accused person was guilty of the crime imputed to him, by mentioning it suddenly while his hands were in the plethysmograph or placing the photograph of the victim before his eyes.
Lombrosso became the first person to use scientific instrumentation successfully in the detection of deception. He is considered the father of modern criminology. He is also known for his less than scientific theory of physiognomy, which was a system he developed to identify persons prone to criminal behavior based on their physiology and bone structure.
Excerpted from EFFECTIVE INTERVIEWING AND INTERROGATION TECHNIQUES by Nathan J. Gordon William L. Fleisher Copyright © 2011 by Elsevier Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Academic Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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