4/17/2015 – What Makes a Liar?
I attend monthly meetings of the local chapter, Mystery Writers of America. The conversation is stimulating and the speaker usually offers technical expertise I can use in my mystery novels. This month’s meeting was no exception. Guest speaker was Stan Burke, a retired FBI special agent and an expert in statement analysis. He is now president of Precision Intelligence Consulting, which specializes in training its clients in innovative investigative techniques.
Is the supposed victim lying? Did he really see a gun or is he making that up? Was he really kidnapped on Friday afternoon and released on Sunday? Was it really rape the way she says or consential sex the way he says? How do you detect the truth or the lies in a statement?
Burke noted that statement analysis is scientifically based. It is not handwriting analysis, which is not. Here are a few factors that are indicators of truth or deception.
Does the subject use unique sensory details in describing the incident? If a person says, for instance, that he was held up by a white man with a gun and that a green thread had been caught in the gun mechanism, he is providing unique sensory details. It shows commitment to what he is saying. A liar would not want to be pinned down by such details and might say, “This man had a gun and he held me up.” If asked specific questions, a liar would tend to waffle. Was he black or white? “I don’t know.”
Liars don’t want to commit to their statement and will use phrases such as “Not to my knowledge” or “I think,” to avoid the risk of commitment. Instead of responding yes or no to a question that only requires a yes or no, they will avoid the direct answer. Liars will also rationalize, minimize, project, or put the answer in the present tense. A person telling the truth might show a lot emotion about a traumatic event, while a liar will not and provide only enough detail to satisfy the questioner.
Burke provided numerous true crime examples of these strategies in action. Now when my characters resort to lying, they’ll be much better at it. And maybe, so will I.