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The question of whether discernible differences exist between liars and truth tellers has interested professional lie detectors and laypersons for centuries. In this article we discuss whether people can detect lies when observing someone's nonverbal behavior or analyzing someone's speech. An article about detecting lies by observing nonverbal and verbal cues is overdue. Scientific journals regularly publish overviews of research articles regarding nonverbal and verbal cues to deception, but they offer no explicit guidance about what lie detectors should do and should avoid doing to catch liars. We will present such guidance in the present article. The article consists of two parts. The first section focuses on pitfalls to avoid and outlines the major factors that lead to failures in catching liars. Sixteen reasons are clustered into three categories: (a) a lack of motivation to detect lies (because accepting a fabrication might sometimes be more tolerable or pleasant than understanding the truth), (b) difficulties associated with lie detection, and (c) common errors made by lie detectors. We will argue that the absence of nonverbal and verbal cues uniquely related to deceit (akin Pinocchio's growing nose), the existence of typically small differences between truth tellers and liars, and the fact that liars actively try to appear credible contribute to making lie detection a difficult task. Other factors that add to difficulty is that lies are often embedded in truths, that lie detectors often do not receive adequate feedback about their judgments and therefore cannot learn from their mistakes, and that some methods to detect lies violate conversation rules and are therefore difficult to apply in real life. The final factor to be discussed in this category is that some people are just very good liars. The common errors lie detectors make that we have identified are examining the wrong cues (in part, because professionals are taught these wrong cues); placing too great an emphasis on nonverbal cues (in part, because training encourages such emphasis); tending to too-readily interpret certain behaviors, particularly signs of nervousness, as diagnostic of deception; placing too great an emphasis on simplistic rules of thumb; and neglecting inter- and intrapersonal differences. We also discuss two final errors: that many interview strategies advocated by police manuals can impair lie detection, and that professionals tend to overestimate their ability to detect deceit. The second section of this article discusses opportunities for maximizing one's chances of detecting lies and elaborates strategies for improving one's lie-detection skills. Within this section, we first provide five recommendations for avoiding the common errors in detecting lies that we identified earlier in the article. Next, we discuss a relatively recent wave of innovative lie-detection research that goes one step further and introduces novel interview styles aimed at eliciting and enhancing verbal and nonverbal differences between liars and truth tellers by exploiting their different psychological states. In this part of the article, we encourage lie detectors to use an information-gathering approach rather than an accusatory approach and to ask liars questions that they have not anticipated. We also encourage lie detectors to ask temporal questions-questions related to the particular time the interviewee claims to have been at a certain location-when a scripted answer (e.g., "I went to the gym") is expected. For attempts to detect lying about opinions, we introduce the devil's advocate approach, in which investigators first ask interviewees to argue in favor of their personal view and then ask them to argue against their personal view. The technique is based on the principle that it is easier for people to come up with arguments in favor than against their personal view. For situations in which investigators possess potentially incriminating information about a suspect, the "strategic use of evidence" technique is introduced. In this technique, interviewees are encouraged to discuss their activities, including those related to the incriminating information, while being unaware that the interviewer possesses this information. The final technique we discuss is the "imposing cognitive load" approach. Here, the assumption is that lying is often more difficult than truth telling. Investigators could increase the differences in cognitive load that truth tellers and liars experience by introducing mentally taxing interventions that impose additional cognitive demand. If people normally require more cognitive resources to lie than to tell the truth, they will have fewer cognitive resources left over to address these mentally taxing interventions when lying than when truth telling. We discuss two ways to impose cognitive load on interviewees during interviews: asking them to tell their stories in reverse order and asking them to maintain eye contact with the interviewer. We conclude the article by outlining future research directions. We argue that research is needed that examines (a) the differences between truth tellers and liars when they discuss their future activities (intentions) rather than their past activities, (b) lies told by actual suspects in high-stakes situations rather than by university students in laboratory settings, and (c) lies told by a group of suspects (networks) rather than individuals. An additional line of fruitful and important research is to examine the strategies used by truth tellers and liars when they are interviewed. As we will argue in the present article, effective lie-detection interview techniques take advantage of the distinctive psychological processes of truth tellers and liars, and obtaining insight into these processes is thus vital for developing effective lie-detection interview tools.
Pitfalls and Opportunities in Nonverbal and
Verbal Lie Detection
Aldert Vrij
¨r Anders Granhag
, and Stephen Porter
University of Portsmouth,
University of Gothenburg,
University of British Columbia
The question of whether discernible differences exist between
liars and truth tellers has interested professional lie detectors
and laypersons for centuries. In this article we discuss whether
people can detect lies when observing someone’s nonverbal
behavior or analyzing someone’s speech. An article about
detecting lies by observing nonverbal and verbal cues is over-
due. Scientific journals regularly publish overviews of research
articles regarding nonverbal and verbal cues to deception, but
they offer no explicit guidance about what lie detectors should
do and should avoid doing to catch liars. We will present such
guidance in the present article.
The article consists of two parts. The first section focuses on
pitfalls to avoid and outlines the major factors that lead to
failures in catching liars. Sixteen reasons are clustered into
three categories: (a) a lack of motivation to detect lies (because
accepting a fabrication might sometimes be more tolerable or
pleasant than understanding the truth), (b) difficulties associ-
ated with lie detection, and (c) common errors made by lie
detectors. We will argue that the absence of nonverbal and ver-
bal cues uniquely related to deceit (akin Pinocchio’s growing
nose), the existence of typically small differences between truth
tellers and liars, and the fact that liars actively try to appear
credible contribute to making lie detection a difficult task.
Other factors that add to difficulty is that lies are often
embedded in truths, that lie detectors often do not receive ade-
quate feedback about their judgments and therefore cannot
learn from their mistakes, and that some methods to detect lies
violate conversation rules and are therefore difficult to apply in
real life. The final factor to be discussed in this category is that
some people are just very good liars.
The common errors lie detectors make that we have
identified are examining the wrong cues (in part, because
professionals are taught these wrong cues); placing too great
an emphasis on nonverbal cues (in part, because training
encourages such emphasis); tending to too-readily interpret
certain behaviors, particularly signs of nervousness, as diag-
nostic of deception; placing too great an emphasis on simplistic
rules of thumb; and neglecting inter- and intrapersonal differ-
ences. We also discuss two final errors: that many interview
strategies advocated by police manuals can impair lie
detection, and that professionals tend to overestimate their
ability to detect deceit.
The second section of this article discusses opportunities for
maximizing one’s chances of detecting lies and elaborates
strategies for improving one’s lie-detection skills. Within this
section, we first provide five recommendations for avoiding
the common errors in detecting lies that we identified earlier
in the article. Next, we discuss a relatively recent wave of
innovative lie-detection research that goes one step further and
introduces novel interview styles aimed at eliciting and enhan-
cing verbal and nonverbal differences between liars and truth
tellers by exploiting their different psychological states. In this
part of the article, we encourage lie detectors to use an
information-gathering approach rather than an accusatory
approach and to ask liars questions that they have not
anticipated. We also encourage lie detectors to ask temporal
questions—questions related to the particular time the intervie-
wee claims to have been at a certain location—when a scripted
answer (e.g., ‘‘I went to the gym’’) is expected. For attempts to
detect lying about opinions, we introduce the devil’s advocate
approach, in which investigators first ask interviewees to argue
in favor of their personal view and then ask them to argue
against their personal view. The technique is based on the prin-
ciple that it is easier for people to come up with arguments in
favor than against their personal view. For situations in which
investigators possess potentially incriminating information
about a suspect, the ‘‘strategic use of evidence’’ technique is
introduced. In this technique, interviewees are encouraged to
discuss their activities, including those related to the incrimi-
nating information, while being unaware that the interviewer
possesses this information. The final technique we discuss is the
‘imposing cognitive load’’ approach. Here, the assumption is
that lying is often more difficult than truth telling. Investigators
could increase the differences in cognitive load that truth
Corresponding Author:
Aldert Vrij, University of Portsmouth, Psychology Department, King Henry
Building, King Henry 1 Street, Portsmouth, United Kingdom PO1 2DY
Psychological Science in the
Public Interest
11(3) 89–121
ªThe Author(s) 2010
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1529100610390861
tellers and liars experience by introducing mentally taxing
interventions that impose additional cognitive demand. If
people normally require more cognitive resources to lie than
to tell the truth, they will have fewer cognitive resources left
over to address these mentally taxing interventions when lying
than when truth telling. We discuss two ways to impose cogni-
tive load on interviewees during interviews: asking them to tell
their stories in reverse order and asking them to maintain eye
contact with the interviewer.
We conclude the article by outlining future research direc-
tions. We argue that research is needed that examines (a) the
differences between truth tellers and liars when they discuss
their future activities (intentions) rather than their past activi-
ties, (b) lies told by actual suspects in high-stakes situations
rather than by university students in laboratory settings, and
(c) lies told by a group of suspects (networks) rather than indi-
viduals. An additional line of fruitful and important research is
to examine the strategies used by truth tellers and liars when
they are interviewed. As we will argue in the present article,
effective lie-detection interview techniques take advantage of
the distinctive psychological processes of truth tellers and
liars, and obtaining insight into these processes is thus vital for
developing effective lie-detection interview tools.
‘Deception entered Western thought in a telling guise when the
author of Genesis placed a serpent in the Garden of Eden. By
lying, the serpent enticed Eve into committing the original sin’’
(C.F. Bond & DePaulo, 2006, p. 214). Lying has always posed
a moral problem. For example, St. Augustine believed that
every lie is a sin, and Aristotle and Kant expressed similar
views. In contrast, Machiavelli highly praised deceit in the ser-
vice of self (Bok, 1989; C.F. Bond & DePaulo). The nature of
lying is two-pronged, and how we feel about deception depends
on the reason for telling the lie (Seiter, Bruschke, & Bai, 2002).
Most lies are told for psychological reasons, and people do not
feel bad about telling these kinds of lies. We do not relish hav-
ing to express all of our thoughts (e.g., ‘‘I find that woman more
attractive than my own partner.’’) and thus, we would rather lie.
Instead of always showing our true selves, we prefer to censor
ourselves so that we are perceived by others in a positive light.
We tell psychological lies for a number of reasons: to protect
ourselves, to avoid tension and conflict in social interactions,
and to minimize hurt feelings and ill will (DePaulo, Kashy,
Kirkendol, Wyer, & Epstein, 1996).
However, sometimes the situation is different, such as when
people really would like to know the truth; these situations can
arise during activities such as watching the evening news or
interviewing a candidate for employment. For example, a
viewer may want to know whether a politician’s denial of
involvement in a bribery scandal is really the truth; a teacher
may want to know whether a student has cheated during the
exam he or she aced; a mother may want to know whether her
daughter really has finished her homework; the potential buyer
of a used car wants to know whether the vehicle is really as
good as the salesperson says; an interviewer may want to know
whether the candidate is indeed as capable as he or she claims;
a customs officer may want to know whether the traveler really
has nothing to declare; an airport security officer wants to know
whether the passenger really has no harmful intent when
entering the aircraft; and a police detective wants to know
whether a suspect’s alibi is reliable. Successfully detecting lies
in situations such as these would benefit individuals and the
society as a whole.
For centuries, the question of whether discernable
differences exist between liars and truth tellers has interested
practitioners and laypersons (Trovillo, 1939). Throughout
history, people have assumed that lying is accompanied by
physiological activity in the liar’s body. For example, in
1000 B.C., the Chinese forced suspected liars to chew rice pow-
der and then spit it out. If the resultant powder was dry, then the
person was judged to have been lying (Kleinmuntz & Szucko,
1984). There was a physiological basis for this assumption.
Liars were assumed to fear being caught, and fear is associated
with decreased salivation and a dry mouth (Ford, 2006). Nowa-
days, technology is used to measure physiological (and neuro-
logical) reactions—particularly the polygraph; voice-stress
analyzers; electroencephalograms (EEG); and most recently,
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The promotion
of such tools can be aggressive. For example, companies
have begun to offer fMRI deception-detection services to
investigators. Two companies—Cephos Corporation in Massa-
chusetts and No Lie MRI, Inc. in California—claim to know
with at least 90%accuracy whether a subject is telling the truth
(Stix, 2008). However, a very small number of published stud-
ies have examined brain function during deception, and such
claims lack strong empirical foundation (Greely & Illes,
2007; Porter & ten Brinke, 2010; Spence, 2008; Wolpe, Foster,
& Langleben, 2005). Specifically, Spence (2008) points to
problems with replication, large individual brain differences,
and no clear brain regions associated with truth telling. Also,
brain activity when lying varies depending on the situation.
Ganis, Kosslyn, Stose, Thompson, and Yurgelun-Todd (2003)
found that telling spontaneous lies corresponds to activation
in different brain areas than does telling rehearsed lies; feeling
strongly about the topic under investigation and the negative
consequences of getting caught also corresponds to different
brain activity than feeling less strong.
In this article, we neither discuss physiological or neurolo-
gical cues to deceit nor focus on lie-detection tools that use
equipment. Rather, we focus on an individual’s overt nonverbal
behavior or speech that human perceivers can discern without
the aid of equipment. Further, we address whether people can
detect lies when observing someone’s nonverbal behavior or
when analyzing someone’s speech. This technique—observa-
tion—is the most common form of lie detection; in many situa-
tions, technologies that are used to measure physiological or
neurological cues are unavailable or are not possible to
In our view, research on lie detection through observations
of nonverbal and verbal cues is overdue. Scientific journals
90 Vrij et al.
regularly publish overviews of research articles regarding
nonverbal and verbal cues of deception (for recent examples,
see DePaulo et al., 2003; Masip, Sporer, Garrido, & Herrero,
2005; Sporer & Schwandt, 2006, 2007; Vrij, 2005). These
meta-analyses provide valuable information about how liars
behave and the stories they tell, but they offer no explicit gui-
dance about what lie detectors should do and avoid doing in
order to detect deception.
This article consists of two sections. The first section
focuses on pitfalls to avoid and outlines the major factors that
lead to failures in detecting liars: We cluster 16 reasons into
three categories (Vrij, 2007, 2008a): (a) a lack of motivation
to detect lies, (b) difficulties associated with lie detection, and
(c) common errors made by lie detectors. Discussing pitfalls is
important because it provides insight into how lie detectors can
improve their performance (e.g., by recognizing common
biases and by avoiding common judgment errors). The second
section of this article discusses opportunities for maximizing
one’s chances of detecting lies and elaborates on strategies for
improving one’s lie-detection skills. In this section, we first
provide five recommendations for avoiding common errors in
detecting lies. These recommendations are firmly based in a
rich body of psychological research over the past few decades.
Next, we discuss a relatively recent wave of innovative lie-
detection research that goes one step further by introducing
novel interview styles aimed at eliciting and enhancing verbal
and nonverbal differences between liars and truth tellers by
exploiting their different psychological states. The recommen-
dations are relevant in varied walks of life, from the individual
level (e.g., ‘‘Is my partner really working late to meet a dead-
line?’’) to the societal level (e.g., ‘‘Can we trust this informant
when he claims that he can disclose information about an active
terrorist cell in London?’’).
Before we discuss the common pitfalls associated with lie
detection, three issues merit attention: (a) a definition of decep-
tion, (b) the underlying premises of verbal and nonverbal cues
to deception and its detection, and (c) research methods used in
deception research.
Defining deception is not a straightforward task. Deception
has been studied through the lens of varied disciplines, includ-
ing psychiatry, linguistics, and philosophy; and accordingly,
diverse definitions have been offered (Granhag & Stro¨mwall,
2004). In the present context, we deem Vrij’s (2008a, p. 15)
definition of deception to be sufficient: ‘‘a successful or unsuc-
cessful attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a
belief which the communicator considers to be untrue.’’ It is
important to note that lying is an intentional act and that mis-
remembering is not the same as lying.
Researchers have proposed different theoretical approaches
to predict which verbal and nonverbal cues to deception
may occur, particularly Ekman and Friesen’s (1969) leakage
and deception cues approach; Zuckerman, DePaulo, and
Rosenthal’s (1981) multifactor model; Ekman’s (1985/2001)
emotion approach; Buller and Burgoon’s (1996) interpersonal
deception theory; and DePaulo’s self-presentational perspec-
tive (DePaulo, 1992; DePaulo et al., 2003). These approaches
have three elements in common that have influenced verbal and
nonverbal lie detection: the notion that, compared with truth
tellers, liars (a) may experience stronger emotions (particularly
fear, as a result of detection apprehension), (b) may experience
higher levels of cognitive load, and (c) are inclined to use more
and different strategies to make a convincing impression on
Traditionally, verbal and nonverbal lie detection has
focused on the difference in emotions that liars and truth tellers
experience. Ekman’s (1985/2001) analysis of microexpressions
is a prime example, but also lie-detection techniques promoted
in police manuals are primarily based on the notion that liars
are more concerned and nervous than truth tellers (Vrij &
Granhag, 2007). The approach has limitations. First, experien-
cing emotions is not the sole domain of liars: Truth tellers can
experience the same emotions, particularly if they know that
they are scrutinized and/or are afraid of not being believed
(e.g., see our later discussion of the Othello error). If emotional
displays or cues of nervousness per se do not reliably distin-
guish between truth tellers and liars, the next step is to ask
questions that will elicit such cues in liars but not in truth tellers
or, alternatively, that will enhance such cues more in liars than
in truth tellers. No such questioning technique exists to date,
and it is doubtful that it can ever be developed (National
Research Council, 2003). For the latter reason, in more recent
lie-detection studies, researchers have concentrated on cogni-
tive load. The premise here is that lying is mentally more taxing
than truth telling. This approach shares one limitation with the
emotion approach. Cues of cognitive load are not the sole
domain of liars either; truth tellers also may have to think hard,
and therefore they may display cues of being mentally taxed.
However, unlike the emotion approach, interview protocols
that elicit and enhance cues of cognitive load more in liars than
in truth tellers can be developed, making it possible to discrimi-
nate between the two. We elaborate on this concept later in the
‘Exploiting the Differential Mental Processes of Truth Tellers
and Liars’’ section. The same section also discusses another
strain of recent lie-detection research that aims to exploit the
fact that liars use more and different strategies to avoid detec-
tion than do truth tellers. In sum, in verbal and nonverbal lie
detection, the emphasis has moved in recent years from
emotion-based lie-detection techniques to cognitive-load
lie-detection techniques that focus on liars’ and truth tellers’
different psychological states and take their differential
strategies into account.
We base our analysis of pitfalls and opportunities in nonver-
bal and verbal lie detection on scientific research. In studies in
which researchers have examined nonverbal and verbal cues to
deception, trained raters watch video footage or analyze tran-
scripts of such footage of truth tellers and liars. They analyze
with particular coding systems the frequency of occurrence
or duration of various nonverbal and verbal cues displayed
by truth tellers and liars (e.g., all sorts of movements, eye
contact, smiles, pauses, amount of detail, type of detail, contra-
dictions) and compare the truthful and deceptive responses.
There are two types of studies—those conducted in the field
Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection 91
and those conducted in the laboratory. In real-life studies,
typically called ‘‘field studies,’’ video footage of real-life set-
tings, such as police–suspect interviews, is analyzed (Mann,
Vrij, & Bull, 2002). In laboratory studies, video footage and/
or transcripts of participants who were instructed by
researchers to tell the truth or lie for the purpose of the experi-
ment are analyzed. Field studies probably have greater appeal
because they are realistic. However, conducting field studies
is problematic, particularly in establishing the ground truth—
researchers can analyze only the responses known to be true
or false. To establish this ground truth satisfactorily, indepen-
dent case facts, such as medical evidence, material evidence,
DNA evidence, or reliable eyewitnesses, are needed. Unfortu-
nately, such facts are often unavailable. In laboratory studies,
researchers (a) ask participants (mostly college students) to tell
the truth or lie and (b) measure their nonverbal and verbal
responses during both activities. In the studies published to
date, participants have told the truth or lied about many
different topics—a film they had just seen, possession of a
certain object in their pocket, their involvement in the disap-
pearance of some money, the number of dots that appeared
on a screen, their feelings about certain people, or their opi-
nions about controversial issues. More recently, researchers
have introduced scenarios that better reflect forensic real-life
situations. In a study by Hartwig, Granhag, Stro¨ mwall, and
Kronkvist (2006), participants were sent to a shop to buy a
product (truth tellers) or steal a wallet (liars) and were
interviewed about the alleged shop visit. In a study by Vrij,
Leal, Mann, and Granhag (in press), participants were sent to
receive a package at a certain location and deliver it somewhere
else and were then interviewed about this mission (liars had to
hide the details of what they did). In study by Stro¨ mwall,
Granhag, and Jonsson (2003), participants (a) were sent to a
restaurant to have lunch (truth tellers) or (b) committed a mock
crime (liars) and were asked to pretend that they had had lunch
in a restaurant. And in a study by Vrij, Granhag, Mann, and
Leal (in press), passengers at an international airport were
asked to tell the truth or lie about their forthcoming trip. The
advantage of laboratory studies is that researchers can establish
the ground truth. However, laboratory studies have limitations.
In such studies, participants do not choose to lie, but rather they
are instructed to do so by the experimenter, meaning that lying
is condoned. Another restriction is that the stakes (negative
consequences of being caught or positive consequences of
being believed) are never really high (Ekman, 1985/2001;
Malone & DePaulo, 2001; Miller & Stiff, 1993). To raise the
stakes in laboratory experiments, participants have been
offered money if they succeed in lying (Vrij, Akehurst,
Soukara, & Bull, 2002; Vrij, Edward, & Bull, 2001). In other
studies, participants are told that they will be observed by their
peers, who will judge their sincerity (DePaulo, Stone, &
Lassiter, 1985), or told that being a good liar is an important
indicator of being successful in a future career (DePaulo,
Lanier, & Davis, 1983). Such studies provide useful examples
of how people behave when they lie in daily life, because most
of the lies people tell are low-stakes lies (DePaulo et al., 1996).
However, suspects in police interviews, smugglers at air-
ports, corrupt politicians in conversations with suspicious
journalists, and husbands who cheat on their wives all tell
high-stakes lies. In an attempt to create examples of such lies,
some researchers have raised the stakes further in laboratory
studies. For example, participants in Frank and Ekman’s
(1997) experiment were given the opportunity to ‘‘steal’’ US
$50. If they could convince the interviewer that they had not
taken the money, they could keep all of it. If they took the
money and the interviewer judged them as lying, they had to
return the US $50 and they would also lose their US $10-per-
hour participation fee. Moreover, some participants faced an
additional punishment if they were found to be lying. They
were told that they would have to sit on a cold, metal chair
inside a cramped, darkened room ominously labeled ‘‘XXX,’
where they would have to endure anything from 10 to 40 ran-
domly sequenced 110-decibel starting blasts of white noise
over the course of 1 hour.
A study such as the one just mentioned raises ethical con-
cerns. Yet, even apart from this concern, one might argue that
the stakes in such a study do not compete with the stakes in
some real-life situations. Providing even larger incentives to
participants is always possible. For example, participants in
Frank and Ekman’s (1997) study could have been offered US
$500 instead of US $50 if they succeed in convincing the
interviewer that they are telling the truth. Introducing severe
punishments for those who fail to convince the interviewer that
they are telling the truth is, however, not possible, because uni-
versity ethics committees will not approve such experiments.
Also, punishments are never realistic, and participants may
be aware of it. Ethical guidelines require researchers to inform
participants before participation that they are free to withdraw
from the study at any time. Hence, when participants are threat-
ened with having to enter a dark room to face white noise for
1 hour, as in Frank and Ekman’s study, they will realize that
they are actually free to leave. In other words, it may not be
possible to introduce truly high-stakes settings in laboratory
experiments, and thus, examining how liars behave in high-
stake real-life situations is often the only option (Barrett,
2005; Riggio, 1994).
In a typical lie-detection study, observers (often undergrad-
uate students, but sometimes professionals such as police offi-
cers or police detectives) are shown short video fragments of
people they do not know who are either telling the truth or
lying. The fragments the observers have to judge are typically
derived from the studies that have been discussed in the previ-
ous paragraph. The observers are asked to indicate after each
fragment whether the person (often called the sender) was tell-
ing the truth or lying. Typically, half of the senders are truth
tellers, and half are liars. (The observers are typically not
informed what percentage will be truth tellers and liars,
because this may result in them deliberately trying to achieve
an equal number of truth and lie responses.) In such a study,
simply guessing whether the sender spoke the truth or lied
would result in correctly classifying 50%of the truths
(truth accuracy rate) and 50%of the lies (lie accuracy rate),
92 Vrij et al.
resulting in a total accuracy rate (truth and lie accuracy rate
combined) of 50%.
In lie-detection studies, observers are typically not given
any background information about the senders and their state-
ments, so the only source of information available to them is
the senders’ nonverbal and verbal behavior. (Exceptions are the
‘Strategic Use of Evidence’’ studies, which are discussed later
in this article.) Such a situation is not typical of lie-detection in
real life. In their study, Park, Levine, McCornack, Morrisson,
and Ferrara (2002) asked college students (a) to recall an
instance in their life in which they had detected that another
person had lied to them and (b) to report how they had
discovered the lie. Participants detected less than 2%of the lies
by relying exclusively on the liars’ nonverbal behavior or
speech content at the time the lies were told. More commonly,
participants discovered the lies through information from third
parties (38%), physical evidence (23%), and confessions
(14%). More than 80%of the lies were detected 1 hour or more
after they were told, and 40%were detected more than a
week later.
Pitfalls in Lie Detection
Lack of motivation to catch liars: The ostrich
Lies often remain undetected because people do not attempt to
uncover the truth (Ekman, 1985/2001), a phenomenon labeled
the ostrich effect (Vrij, 2008a). A fabrication might sometimes
be more tolerable or pleasant than the truth for the message
recipient, rendering ignorance the preferred option. For
example, why bother trying to discover whether mendacious
compliments about one’s body shape, hairstyle, dress sense,
or achievements are truthful?
For this reason, the ostrich effect extends to more serious
lies, which thus also remain undiscovered. For example, Betty
Currie, who was former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s secretary,
tried to avoid learning details of the relationship between the
President and Monica Lewinsky (Vrij, 2008a). Indeed, rather
than gain anything from knowing the truth, she would have
been put in the difficult position of having to decide what to
do with such knowledge. Not knowing what to do when having
learned the truth may also be the reason why some people over-
look evidence for possible infidelity by their romantic partners,
instead remaining in denial (Feldman & Cauffman, 1999). If an
individual discovers that his or her partner is having an affair,
this discovery could create a difficult situation for the betrayed
spouse. For example, there is the risk of the cheating partner
leaving the betrayed spouse if confronted with the evidence.
If they also have children, the betrayed spouse may feel that
marital dissolution is undesirable because of its effect on their
children. In such situations, it is worthwhile to engage defense
mechanisms such as denial in order to avoid acknowledging the
truth. In brief, even though the solution may be worse than the
problem, ignorance can be bliss.
Difficulty of lie detection: Absence of
Pinocchio’s growing nose
In the classic tale The Adventures of Pinocchio, Pinocchio’s
nose grew larger each time he lied, but it was unaltered each
time he spoke the truth, so his growing nose was a reliable cue
to deceit. The meta-analyses that have been published to date
have made clear that there are no nonverbal and verbal cues
uniquely related to deceit. In other words, reliable cues to
deception akin to Pinocchio’s growing nose do not exist
(DePaulo et al., 2003; Masip et al., 2005; Sporer & Schwandt,
2006, 2007; Vrij, 2005). The fact that there is no single cue that
lie detectors can consistently rely upon makes lie detection
inherently difficult.
The meta-analyses further reveal that the majority of the
nonverbal and verbal cues that researchers typically examine
in deception studies are not related to deception at all. For
example, in DePaulo et al.’s (2003) meta-analysis—the most
extensive one to date—the researchers investigated 158 cues,
of which 118 (75%) showed no association with deception at
all (including cues people often associated with lying, such
as gaze aversion, postural shifts, pauses, and self-references).
Many cues that were found to be to some extent related to
deception were often examined sporadically, and it is important
for researchers to replicate those cues’ diagnostic value before
drawing conclusions.
Subtle differences
Another difficulty that lie detectors face is that any behavioral
differences between truth tellers and liars are typically small.
For example, in DePaulo et al.’s (2003) meta-analysis, 14 of the
50 (28%) cues that had been examined in six or more deception
studies revealed a significant association with deception,
including liars who provided fewer details and less plausible
answers than did truth tellers, and liars who made fewer illus-
trators (i.e., hand movements that accompany speech and illus-
trate it) than did truth tellers. However, the average effect size
of the relation of the various behaviors with deception was only
d¼.25, which is considered to be a small or modest effect
(Cohen, 1977). Because these relationships are modest, police
manuals that describe nonverbal and verbal cues of deceit are
misleading. Although such manuals often offer brief warnings
about the unreliability of cues to deception, those caveats are
easily lost in the ensuing detailed and enthusiastic descriptions
of how behavior and speech differs between truth tellers and
liars (see also Moston, 1992). Those descriptions are some-
times accompanied by photographs demonstrating ‘‘truthful
forward posture’’ and ‘‘deceptive adaptor behaviors’’ (Inbau,
Reid, Buckley, & Jayne, 2001, pp. 145, 149), thereby suggest-
ing that (a) reliable cues to deception do exist and (b) the
differences between truth tellers and liars are substantial and
therefore easy to spot. Nevertheless, no scientific research
supports these promises: Cues to deception are generally unre-
liable and faint.
Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection 93
The fact that cues to deception are unreliable and faint aligns
with the previous contention that emotions and cognitive
load—two main indicators of deception—can be displayed
by both liars and truth tellers. A more promising picture may
emerge when interviewers attempt to elicit and enhance cues
to deceit. Such studies—discussed later in this article—are
scarce and have only recently been conducted; in fact, none
of these were published before 2003, the year that DePaulo
et al.’s meta-analyses was published.
A further complication for lie detectors is that liars—
particularly those communicating high-stakes lies—often
deliberately attempt to appear credible in order to avoid detec-
tion; strategies to achieve this goal are called countermeasures.
A verbal veracity assessment tool widely used by professional
lie catchers is statement validity assessment. Statement validity
assessments are accepted as evidence in some North American
courts (Ruby & Brigham, 1997) and in criminal courts in sev-
eral West European countries, including Austria, Germany,
Sweden, Switzerland, and The Netherlands (Ko¨ hnken, 2002,
2004). The statement validity assessment originates from
Sweden (Trankell, 1972) and Germany (Arntzen, 1970, 1982,
1983; Undeutsch, 1967, 1982, 1984, 1989) and has been
designed to determine the credibility of child witnesses’
testimonies in trials for sexual offenses. The core phase of the
statement validity assessment is criteria-based content analysis,
a list of 19 criteria thought to be more present in truthful
accounts than in false ones (including mentioning space and
time, replication of conversation, recall of interactions, unex-
pected complications, and accounts of mental state; for recent
statement validity assessment reviews, see Vrij, 2005,
2008a). However, children (and adults) who learn how
criteria-based content analysis works can tell stories that sound
plausible to experts in using such analysis (Caso, Vrij, Mann, &
de Leo, 2006; Joffe & Yuille, 1992; Vrij et al., 2002, Vrij,
Akehurst, Soukara, & Bull, 2004b; Vrij, Kneller, & Mann,
2000). Thus, it is possible to become a ‘‘sophisticated’’ liar
by using knowledge-based countermeasures.
Liars may further realize that observers pay attention to their
behavioral reactions to ascertain their truthfulness. Liars there-
fore may attempt to control behavior that could betray their lies
(Buller & Burgoon, 1996; Burgoon & Buller, 1994; Burgoon,
Buller, Floyd, & Grandpre, 1996; Burgoon, Buller, White,
Afifi, & Buslig, 1999; Krauss, 1981). In particular, they may
avoid exhibiting behaviors they believe will create a dishonest
impression, instead trying to display behaviors they believe
will make them appear credible (Hocking & Leathers, 1980;
Leary & Kowalski, 1990). Gaze aversion and grooming ges-
tures are among the behaviors most widely believed to signal
deceptive behavior (see subsequent section), and liars therefore
may avoid displaying them. They appear to be successful in
avoiding displaying them because gaze aversion and grooming
gestures are unrelated to deception (DePaulo et al., 2003).
Embedded lies
Another difficulty that lie detectors face is that lies are often
embedded in truths. That is, rather than telling a blatant lie that
is entirely untruthful, liars tend more to change specific vital
details in an otherwise truthful story. Thus, when a man wants
to conceal his illicit activities on, say, a Tuesday night, he could
give details of what he really did on Monday night. Thus, most
of the statement is truthful, with only a tiny, but vital, lie (e.g.,
having committed infidelity or murder) embedded (in this case,
by omission or denial). Criminal suspects often tell such
embedded lies (see Hartwig, Granhag, & Stro¨ mwall, 2007;
Porter & Yuille, 1995; Stro¨mwall, Granhag, & Landstro¨m,
2007). In a similar vein, when examining false identities
adopted by criminals, Wang, Chen, and Atabakhsh (2004)
found that such fraudsters typically alter only a small portion
of their original identity.
Noncriminals who lie often use a similar embedded-lies
strategy (DePaulo et al., 2003; Turner, Edgley, & Olmstead,
1975); this has also been demonstrated in experimental
research. For example, in Bell and DePaulo’s (1996) experi-
ment, art students asked participants their views on a student’s
work. When the participants disliked the work, they sometimes
overstated the specific elements they favored (e.g., the colors
used in the painting) and understated what they disliked. In this
lie strategy, most of what the participants said was truthful.
Embedded lies hamper the use of statement validity assess-
ments and other verbal veracity assessment tools such as reality
monitoring, because they typically examine the quantity and
quality of details in a statement (Masip et al., 2005; Vrij,
2005). Lies that are embedded in predominantly truthful state-
ments may be rich in high-quality details typically associated
with credible statements, which could give the lie detector the
erroneous impression that the statement is truthful. Lie detec-
tors who focus on nonverbal behavior may make a similar mis-
take if the deceptive element of a liar’s story remains unnoticed
(e.g., when the person went to the gym) and if they overattend
the truthful part instead (e.g., what the person did at the gym).
No adequate feedback
Another complication in lie detection is that lie detectors often
do not receive adequate feedback about their judgments and
therefore cannot learn from their mistakes. For feedback to
be helpful, it should be provided frequently, reliably, and
immediately. Thus, observers should be informed immediately
after every interaction with another person whether that person
was lying. They could then learn how liars truly behave and
what they really say and incorporate such knowledge into
improved lie-catching strategies. However, adequate feedback
is often unavailable (DePaulo & Kirkendol, 1989). People
often never discover that they have been lied to, or such knowl-
edge is gained long after the interaction (Park et al., 2002). In
many cases of wrongful conviction, the police and/or judge
only find out their credibility assessment errors years or
decades after they occur. By the time they learn that they
94 Vrij et al.
attributed honesty to a deceptive person or vice versa, it is too
late for them to make meaningful changes to their decision-
making strategies.
Customs officers also face feedback problems (DePaulo &
Pfeifer, 1986). Part of their jobs is to detect smugglers among
travelers. From the numerous passengers they decide not to
search, they virtually get no feedback at all. Some of them may
be smugglers, but once the officers let them pass unsearched,
they will almost never find out that they made a mistake. They
may not even get adequate feedback from the people they do
search. Among the latter may be smugglers whose illegal goods
remain undetected despite a search.
Violation of conversation rules
As we show in the ‘‘Exploiting the Different Mental Processes
of Truth Tellers and Liars’’ section of this review, the act of
lying becomes increasingly difficult when the lie detector asks
further probing questions that follow an initial free recall by the
target (Toris & DePaulo, 1984; Vrij, 2008a).
However, probes
in daily-life conversations can violate social norms, being seen
as inappropriate, strange, or impolite. Conversation partners
may object to requests such as ‘‘Could you elaborate on that?’
and ‘‘Could you repeat what you just said?’’ and may even end
the conversation.
Further, although focusing on a speaker’s body movements
could benefit the lie detector because the speaker may reveal
signs of deceit (DePaulo et al., 2003; Sporer & Schwandt,
2007), such movement scanning would seem strange and inap-
propriate in daily-life situations. Conversation rules dictate that
a listener should look into a speaker’s eyes, but the eyes them-
selves generally do not reveal reliable information about decep-
tion (DePaulo et al.; Sporer & Schwandt). Therefore, these
conversation rules (i.e., discourage probing questions and
maintain eye gaze) can hamper lie detection.
Good liars
A final factor contributing to the complexity of lie detection is
that some people are proficient liars. Although surprisingly lit-
tle research has addressed the features of a good liar, we believe
six features may be especially important. The best liars are
those individuals (a) whose natural behavior disarms suspicion;
(b) who do not find it cognitively difficult to lie; (c) who do not
experience emotions such as fear, guilt, or delight when they
are lying; (d) who are good actors and who display a seemingly
honest demeanor; (e) whose attractiveness may lead to an infer-
ence of virtue and honesty; and/or (f) who are ‘‘good
Regarding the first feature of the proficient deceiver—natu-
ral behavior—certain behavioral patterns are associated with
honesty and likability. Such behavioral patterns include gaze
directed to a conversation partner, smiling, head nodding, lean-
ing forward, direct body orientation, posture mirroring,
uncrossed arms, articulate gesturing, moderate speaking rates,
a lack of ‘‘ums’ and ‘‘ers,’’ and vocal variety (Buller & Aune,
1988; Ekman, 1985/2001; Tickle-Degnen & Rosenthal, 1990).
Some people show such demeanor naturally even when they
are lying (e.g., natural performers; Ekman, 1997). Natural
performers are likely to be good liars because their natural
behavior is likely to allay suspicion. Former U.S. President Bill
Clinton was blessed with this characteristic, being naturally
warm and engaging, and he was able to tell lies that were highly
convincing to his audience. To illustrate, he received a standing
ovation in response to his assertive denial of having sexual rela-
tions with Monica Lewinsky.
Second, effective liars find the act of telling lies to be cog-
nitively unchallenging. They may plan their statements and
behavior well in advance of the lie, and this rehearsal probably
facilitates the ease of deception. Although it is obvious that
liars should prepare a story that sounds plausible, this task is
difficult for many people. Vrij and Mann (2001b) described
five cases in which people who were suspected of having killed
one of their relatives and initially denied having done so. Some
of the individuals described made serious mistakes when they
planned their stories, which made it easy to discern that they
probably were hiding the truth. For example, one individual
reported being knocked unconscious for 10 hours, but medical
professionals determined that this scenario was impossible.
Even liars who are typically well prepared can face unexpected
situations that require an explanation. For example, a wife may
confront her husband with the telephone number and address of
a woman—unknown to her—that she found in his pocket; or a
police detective may tell a suspect that he was seen by a witness
at the scene of crime directly after it occurred. To lie success-
fully in these or similar situations, the liar needs a convincing
and plausible answer. To spontaneously invent a plausible
answer is probably too difficult for many liars, but original
thinkers who are mentally creative may be successful in deal-
ing with such immediate cognitive demands.
Third, liars differ in the emotions they experience while
communicating a lie. One job applicant may feel guilty or anx-
ious when exaggerating his or her qualifications, whereas
another may not. One suspect may experience extreme anxiety
when presenting a false alibi, whereas another suspect may
remain calm. One student may feel excitement when sensing
that the teacher believes his or her excuse for being late
(referred to as duping delight), whereas another may feel trepi-
dation and guilt. Deceiving others is made easier if the liar does
not experience feelings of guilt, fear, or delight, because in that
case, no emotional behavior needs to be suppressed. An
absence of emotions during deception can be related to (a) an
absence of remorse concerning a specific incident (e.g.,
defrauding a wealthy corporation), (b) being practiced at and
feeling confident when lying, or (c) a lack of emotion in gen-
eral. Psychopathic individuals, for example, have a profound
emotional impairment and, accordingly, they experience little
fear or remorse, even when telling a high-stakes lie (e.g., Hare,
2006; Porter & Woodworth, 2007). Moreover, people with a
powerful imagination and the capacity to believe what they are
saying are unlikely to experience guilt or fear. Sometimes such
people can come to develop a false belief in their original lies
Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection 95
after the passage of time and are thus not, strictly speaking,
lying (e.g., Pickel, 2004).
Fourth, although natural performers and those who experi-
ence little cognitive load or emotions when lying make the best
liars, those who can effectively mask signs of cognitive load
and emotions and concurrently display behavior that appears
credible probably also make good liars. This feat requires good
acting skills. If such individuals are not natural performers,
their lies may raise suspicion, and they should adapt themselves
adequately to disarm this suspicion. The sooner they adapt
themselves, the more chance they have of successfully disarm-
ing suspicion. It is thus crucial to notice suspicion quickly,
which requires good decoding skills.
Fifth, elements of physical appearance can promote effec-
tive lying. For example, attractiveness and characteristics of
faces can lead to inferences of trustworthiness that facilitate the
liar’s success (e.g., Porter, England, Juodis, ten Brinke, &
Wilson, 2008; Porter, Gustaw, & ten Brinke, 2010).
Last, good liars probably also have good insight into another
person’s thought processes. They have a sense of what other
people want to hear and how to convey it persuasively. In that
respect, successful lying could be related to emotional intelli-
gence. However, we are not aware of research that has exam-
ined this phenomenon (for in-depth discussions of factors
that make people good liars, see Vrij, 2008a; Vrij, Granhag,
& Mann, in press).
Common Errors Made by Lie Detectors
People fail to catch liars not only because they are unmotivated
to catch them or because the lie-detection task is difficult but
also because they make systematic errors in the evaluation pro-
cess. We believe that eight common errors can be identified,
which we examine in this section.
Examining the wrong cues
There are widespread beliefs about how people behave and
what they say when they lie. Overwhelmingly, both laypersons
and professional lie catchers expect liars to act nervously; exhi-
biting gaze aversion (‘‘liars look away’’) and displaying
grooming gestures (‘‘liars fidget’’) are among the most popular
beliefs (Stro¨mwall, Granhag, & Hartwig, 2004; Taylor & Hick,
2007; The Global Deception Team, 2006; Vrij, 2008a; Vrij,
Akehurst, & Knight, 2006).
Charles F. Bond conducted an
ambitious ‘‘beliefs about cues to deception’’ project that he
published under the name The Global Deception Team. The
team consisted of an international group of researchers from
58 countries, each collecting data from 20 male and 20 female
adult residents of his or her country. The participants were
asked to write down their response to the question, ‘‘How can
you tell when people are lying?’’ The respondents mentioned
103 different beliefs, 9 of which were given by more than
15%of the participants. One cue in particular was prevalent:
gaze aversion. People overwhelmingly asserted that liars avert
their gaze, and 64%of the participants expressed this belief.
Gaze aversion was the most frequently mentioned belief about
deception behavior in 51 out of 58 countries. Gaze aversion
showed the lowest prevalence in the United Arab Emirates,
where it was mentioned by 20%of the participants, making it
the eighth most prevalent belief in that country.
Despite their overwhelming endorsement internationally,
cues such as gaze aversion and grooming gestures are not reli-
able cues to deception (DePaulo et al., 2003; Sporer &
Schwandt, 2007). Nonetheless, police and other legal profes-
sionals are encouraged to use such incorrect cues in detecting
lies (Johnson, 2006a, 2006b). For example, in their influential
police manual, Inbau et al. (2001)
advocated several nonver-
bal cues as being diagnostic of deception, including avoiding
eye contact and grooming gestures, as well as cues such as fre-
quent posture changes, placing hands over mouth or eyes, and
lack of illustrators. Of these cues, only a decrease in illustrators
has been found empirically to be associated with deception
(e.g., DePaulo et al.). Thus, it is not surprising that, in a
lie-detection study in which police officers viewed video
fragments of suspects telling the truth or lying during their
interviews, there was an inverse relation between (a) the endor-
sement of the lie cues promoted in the Inbau et al. manual and
(b) the ability to distinguish suspects’ truths and lies (Mann,
Vrij, & Bull, 2004). In another study, college students who had
been trained in the behavioral cues described by Inbau et al.
performed worse on a subsequent lie-detection test than did
untrained participants (Kassin & Fong, 1999). Police manuals
often advise investigators to pay attention to signs of nervous-
ness when attempting to detect deceit (Vrij & Granhag, 2007),
advice that could easily lead to Othello errors (see subsequent
How do such false beliefs about lying develop? One likely
contributing factor is moral reasoning. The stereotypical but
sometimes incorrect view is that lying is ‘‘bad’’ (Backbier,
Hoogstraten, & Meerum Terwogt-Kouwenhoven, 1997; Bok,
1989; DePaulo, 2004; DePaulo et al., 1996; Kowalski, Walker,
Wilkinson, Queen, & Sharp, 2003; Robinson, 1994;
Schweitzer, Hershey, & Bradlow, 2006). C.F. Bond argued that
the prominent lying/gaze-aversion myth fits well with this
lying-is-bad stereotype (The Global Deception Team, 2006).
Because people often avert their gaze when they feel ashamed,
they should do so, it is assumed, when engaging in the repre-
hensible act of lying (DePaulo et al., 2003). Moreover, because
lying is bad, liars should feel nervous about the potential for
getting caught, and they should exhibit signs of anxiety such
as avoiding eye contact, increased fidgeting, and moving
around. Because the association of lying and immorality is
taught early in life, children as young as 5 to 6 years of age
already associate gaze aversion and limb movements with
deception (Rotenberg & Sullivan, 2003).
After such stereotypical beliefs are established, they persist
for several reasons, including illusory correlations, or the per-
ception of associations that do not exist, develop, strengthen,
and cause observers to distort their information processing. For
example, in Levine, Asada, and Park’s (2006) intriguing
experiment, observers who were led to believe that someone
96 Vrij et al.
was lying subsequently overestimated the amount of gaze
aversion that the supposed liar had actually displayed. A sec-
ond factor is the phenomenon of confirmation bias, a tendency
to seek information that confirms existing beliefs (Darley &
Gross, 1983); in this case, overattending to observations suppo-
sedly validates the relation between lying and gaze aversion/
nervousness. Third, when people make observations that could
disconfirm a false belief, they often disregard or downplay it
instead of interpreting the new evidence properly, a phenom-
enon called belief perseverance (C.A. Anderson, Lepper, &
Ross, 1980). Researchers have found such phenomena to
influence flawed deception detection and evaluation of
evidence in legal cases more generally (Porter, Gustaw, & ten
Brinke, 2010). Fourth, after observers form a strong opinion
that makes sense to them, they often create further reasons to
support their view (Stro¨ mwall et al., 2004). In fact, an
opinion is often strengthened by merely thinking about the
topic (Tesser, 1978). Fifth, as previously mentioned, people
typically receive inadequate feedback about the validity of
their lie-detection judgments, disallowing effective learning
and improvements with experience. Ironically, effective
learning opportunities may be available to seasoned criminal
offenders more so than to legal decision makers. Offenders
probably need to lie frequently and effectively in order to suc-
ceed in their criminal careers (e.g., Porter & Woodworth,
2007), and they receive frequent and often immediate feedback
on whether their attempts to lie are successful. Accordingly,
offenders have more correct views about cues to deception than
do laypersons and professional lie catchers (Stro¨ mwall et al.,
2004; Vrij & Semin, 1996). For example, the erroneous
stereotypical view that liars increase their movements is not
common among offenders (Vrij & Semin).
The combination of how incorrect beliefs originate and why
they last could explain the advocacy of such beliefs in many
police manuals. These views are based on subjective
impressions about verbal and nonverbal behavior displayed
by suspects during police interviews rather than on empirical
research. Psychological research and theory suggest that these
impressions can easily become distorted. Our advice to authors
of police manuals, therefore, is to base their writing on science
and not subjective impressions.
Overemphasis on nonverbal cues
In a minority of cases, observers rely on speech content when
they attempt to detect deceit. This may occur for example with
observers who are knowledgeable about the facts that are
discussed by the target person. In such cases, the observer
typically focuses on the narrative and compares his or her
knowledge with the story the target person provides (e.g.,
Reinhard, Sporer, & Marksteiner, 2009). Second, observers
occasionally have access to more than one statement—multiple
statements from the same person or statements from different
people—and thus focus on the level of consistency between the
statements (Granhag & Stro¨ mwall, 1999, 2000a, 2000b, 2001;
Stro¨mwall & Granhag, 2005, 2007; Stro¨ mwall, Granhag, &
Jonsson, 2003). Also, observers may rely on verbal cues when
they are distinctive, particularly when a statement appears to be
against the self-interest of the storyteller (Noller, 1985), such as
a confession.
When the observer possesses no factual information, has no
statements for comparison, and when the speech content is not
distinctive, observers are inclined to pay greater attention to
nonverbal behavior than to verbal behavior. For example,
Mann et al. (2004) showed 99 British police officers 54 video-
taped fragments of police interviews with individuals who were
suspected of rape, arson, or murder. The officers were asked to
make veracity judgments following each fragment and to report
the cues on which they based their decisions. The majority of
the cues reported (78%) were nonverbal (also see Porter,
Woodworth, & Birt, 2000). Also, when observers notice that
someone’s nonverbal behavior and speech content are
discrepant, they typically rely on the nonverbal channel. For
example, a job applicant with a reserved demeanor who claims
to be enthusiastic about the job will be perceived as less keen
about it than he or she reports (DePaulo, Rosenthal, Eisenstat,
Rogers, & Finkelstein, 1978; Hale & Stiff, 1990; Zuckerman,
Driver, & Koestner, 1982; Zuckerman, Speigel, DePaulo, &
Rosenthal, 1982).
Lie detectors pay so much attention to nonverbal behavior
for several reasons. First, people are used to making inferences
from nonverbal behavior, including facial expressions. By
observing behavior alone, people draw, with reasonable accu-
racy, many conclusions about other people, including their per-
sonality traits (e.g., extraversion, sociability), masculinity,
femininity, or sexual orientation. From behavior, it is also pos-
sible to discern information about status, dominance, romantic
involvement, and relationship potential (Ambady, Bernieri, &
Richeson, 2000), and women are able to accurately rate men’s
interest in infants based only on viewing their faces (Roney,
Hanson, Durante, & Maestripieri, 2006). Observing only 5 sec-
onds of a stranger’s behavior can result in reasonably reliable
inference of psychopathic personality, characterized by cal-
lousness, manipulation, and persistent antisocial behavior
(Fowler, Lilienfeld, & Patrick, 2009). Observers may even be
unaware of the specific nonverbal behavior that guides their
evaluations of credibility. In the Canadian case R. v. Lifchus
(1997), Justice Cory noted:
It may be that the juror is unable to point to the precise aspect of
the witness’s demeanor which was found to be suspicious ...
A juror should not be made to feel that the overall, perhaps
intangible, effect of a witness’s demeanor cannot be taken into
consideration in the assessment of credibility.
Second, expectancies about the truthfulness of a person may
influence the observer’s attention. For example, analyses of
police interviews in England showed that the police inter-
viewers were ‘‘certain’’ of the suspect’s guilt before interview-
ing him or her in 73%of the cases (Moston, Stephenson, &
Williamson, 1992). Saul M. Kassin (2005, p. 216), who had
asked numerous American police officers whether they are
Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection 97
concerned that their persuasive interrogation methods may
evoke false confessions, reported that the most common reply
is ‘‘No, because I do not interrogate innocent people.’’ When
lying is expected, police officers may have little interest in
listening to a suspect’s flat denials and prefer to look at bodily
signs to confirm deceit (Millar & Millar, 1998).
Third, formulating and asking the best questions in some
contexts, particularly suspect interviews, can be a cognitively
taxing task. Concurrent attempts to detect deceit during these
interviews may further increase the cognitive demands on the
interviewers (Patterson, 1995, 2006). Accordingly, inter-
viewers may be inclined to detect deceit via nonverbal
channels, because the processing of nonverbal cues requires
fewer cognitive resources than the processing of verbal cues
(Reinhard & Sporer, 2008).
Fourth, the preference for nonverbal behaviors as indicators
of deception may result from training, which encourages such
an emphasis. For example, police training manuals place
greater emphasis on nonverbal cues than on speech-content
cues as cues to deceit (for a review of visual cues mentioned
in police manuals, see Vrij & Granhag, 2007). This nonverbal
dominance is further emphasized with explicit statements. For
example, Inbau et al. (2001) stated in their widely used training
manual that ‘‘as much as 70 percent of a message communi-
cated between persons occurs at the nonverbal level’’ (p.
143). Popular books by academics may also promote a reliance
on nonverbal behaviors in catching liars. For example, in Paul
Ekman’s (1985/2001) book Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the
Marketplace, Politics and Marriage, there is much greater
attention to nonverbal cues of deception than to speech-
related ones. Although this was probably justified when the
first edition of the book was published in 1985, the past 25 years
have witnessed the generation of a large body of speech-related
deception research, particularly concerning criteria-based con-
tent analysis (for reviews, see Vrij, 2005, 2008a) and reality
monitoring (for reviews, see Masip et al., 2005; Sporer,
2004; Vrij, 2008a).
This overemphasis on nonverbal cues to deception is proble-
matic. Meta-analyses of verbal and nonverbal cues of decep-
tion have shown that many speech-related cues are more
diagnostic of deception than are nonverbal cues (DePaulo
et al., 2003; Vrij, 2008a). In addition, observers who pay sole
attention to nonverbal cues are less accurate in discriminating
truths and lies than are those who consider speech content
(C.F. Bond & DePaulo, 2006; Burgoon, Blair, & Strom,
2008; Lindholm, 2008). In addition, paying attention to visual
cues may encourage a lie bias, or tendency to judge someone to
be a liar (C.F. Bond & DePaulo). An explanation for this is that
people have stereotypical beliefs about the behavior of liars
(e.g., gaze aversion, fidgeting) rather than of truth tellers (The
Global Deception Team, 2006; Stro¨mwall et al., 2004; Vrij
et al., 2006). In other words, people can judge deception based
on the presence of some cues, but they need to judge truthful-
ness based on the absence of some cues. People normally
respond to the presence of a signal rather than to the absence
of a signal. A lie bias heightens the risk of false suspicion, even
conviction, of innocent suspects (Kassin, 2008a, 2008b;
Kassin, Appleby, & Torkildson-Perillo, 2010; Kassin &
Gudjonsson, 2004).
The Othello error
A common error in lie detection is to too readily interpret cer-
tain behaviors, particularly signs of nervousness, as diagnostic
of deception. A common mistake for lie detectors is the failure
to consider that truth tellers (e.g., an innocent suspect or defen-
dant) can be as nervous as liars. Truth tellers can be nervous as
a result of being accused of wrongdoing or as a result of fear of
not being believed, because they too could face negative con-
sequences if they are not believed (C.F. Bond & Fahey,
1987; Ofshe & Leo, 1997). The misinterpretation of signs of
nervousness in truth tellers as signs of deceit is referred to as
the Othello error by deception researchers (Ekman, 1985/
2001), based on Shakespeare’s character. Othello falsely
accuses his wife Desdemona of infidelity, and he tells her to
confess because he is going to kill her for her treachery. When
Desdemona asks Othello to summon Cassio (her alleged lover)
so that he can testify her innocence, Othello tells her that he has
already murdered Cassio. Realizing that she cannot prove her
innocence, Desdemona reacts with an emotional outburst,
which Othello misinterprets as a sign of her infidelity. The
Othello error is particularly problematic in attempting to iden-
tify high-stakes lies because of the observer’s sense of urgency
and a host of powerful cognitive biases that contribute to
tunnel-vision decision making (see Porter & ten Brinke, 2009).
The use of heuristics
Instead of carefully scrutinizing someone’s responses in eval-
uating his or her credibility, observers may rely on general
decision rules (Fiedler & Walka, 1993). Person-perception
researchers have observed that this can be an effective way
for observers with limited time and attentional resources to
deal with complex environments or demands (Albrechtsen,
Meissner, & Susa, 2009; Macrae & Bodenhausen, 2001). How-
ever, general decision rules, or heuristics, can easily lead to
systematic errors in decision making (Burgoon et al., 2008).
In the subsequent section, we review some heuristics that
may lead to systematic errors when trying to detect deception.
It should be noted, however, that there is a relatively recent
wave of research that has challenged the view that relying on
heuristics is necessarily bad. For example, since the mid-
1990s, research has provided empirical support that the use
of certain heuristics in certain contexts leads to effective, accu-
rate decisions (Gigerenzer, Todd, & the ABC Research Group,
1999). Detecting deception can be a complex endeavor.
Sometimes, observers have little time or information to formu-
late an informed decision, and they must rely on heuristics
(consider, for example, a bank clerk confronted by a robber
with one hand in his or her pocket and claiming to have a gun).
The question then is which heuristics to use and which to avoid.
Deception researchers have focused considerable attention on
98 Vrij et al.
problematic heuristics but little on potentially effective
Several heuristics that are commonly used in assessing
credibility can be identified. Because people encounter more
truthful than deceptive messages in their daily lives, they
assume that most behavior that they encounter is associated
with honesty (i.e., the availability heuristic, O’Sullivan,
Ekman, & Friesen, 1988), in stark contrast with the bias evi-
denced by police officers. A related heuristic is the anchoring
heuristic (Elaad, 2003), referring to the tendency to make
insufficient adjustments from an initial value or assessment
(the anchor) resulting in a final decision that is biased toward
this value. Thus, if observers are preoccupied in thinking that
someone is telling the truth, they will make insufficient
adjustments when contrasting evidence emerges. It has further
been argued that as romantic relationships become more inti-
mate, partners develop a strong tendency to judge the other
as truthful, the so-called relational truth-bias heuristic (D.E.
Anderson, Ansfield, & DePaulo, 1999; Stiff, Kim, &
Ramesh, 1992). An opposite anchoring problem has been
observed in the legal system. According to dangerous deci-
sions theory (Porter, Gustaw, et al., 2010; Porter & ten
Brinke, 2009), the reading of a suspect’s or defendant’s face
and emotional expressions (the anchor) plays a powerful
role in influencing decisions concerning his or her honesty.
This theory predicts that the human brain makes instanta-
neous inferences about trustworthiness that influence vari-
ous aspects of interpersonal evaluation, including those
about credibility and culpability. For example, jurors make
strong but often inaccurate intuitive judgments of a defen-
dant’s general trustworthiness quickly upon seeing his or
her face for the first time, with this initial intuitive assess-
ment having a substantial influence on the manner in which
the credibility of ensuing information from and about the
individual is interpreted (Bar, Neta, & Linz, 2006; Porter
et al., 2008; Todorov, 2008).
The probing heuristic (Levine & McCornack, 1996a, 1996b,
2001) refers to observers’ tendency to believe a source more
after the source has been probed. Guided by the belief that
probing is an effective lie-detection strategy, the source is more
likely to be believed if probing does not result in clear signs of
deceit (and it often will not). The representativeness heuristic
(Stiff et al., 1989) refers to the tendency to evaluate a particular
reaction as an example of a broader category. In the present
context, it could explain people’s inclination to interpret
nervous behaviors as signs of deceit. The consistency heuristic
refers to the tendency to judge consecutive consistent state-
ments as being truthful and consecutive statements that are
inconsistent as being deceptive (Granhag & Stro¨ mwall,
2000a, 200b). The expectancy violation heuristic (Vrij, 2004)
refers to the tendency to judge reactions that seem odd accord-
ing to conversation norms and have a low base rate (e.g., keep-
ing the eyes closed, or conversely, staring intently during a
conversation) as being deceptive. According to the falsifiability
heuristic, messages that that are easily falsifiable via reality
checks appear less credible than messages that are not easily
falsifiable, such as feelings, preferences, attitudes, and opinions
(Fiedler & Walka, 1993).
The facial appearance heuristic (Vrij, 2004) refers to the
tendency to judge people with attractive, symmetrical faces
or baby-faced appearances as honest, and people with certain
facial characteristics suggesting anger and unkindness as dis-
honest (Porter, England, Juodis, ten Brinke, & Wilson, 2008).
Willis and Todorov (2006) found that observers infer the trust-
worthiness of others almost instantaneously upon seeing the
face (100 milliseconds of exposure) and do so with a high level
of confidence. Yet, Porter et al. (2008) found that observers
were unable to discriminate philanthropists from felons fea-
tured in the television program America’s Most Wanted despite
believing that they ‘‘knew’’ who were the most and least trust-
worthy. Similarly, there are some faces that people agree look
like that of a rapist, robber, or murderer (R. Bull & McAlpine,
1998; Dumas & Teste´, 2006), which will influence the observ-
er’s assessment of honesty concerning the alleged offense.
The visual cue primacy heuristic (e.g., Burgoon et al., 2008;
Stiff et al., 1989) refers to a tendency to assign primacy to
visual information when attempting to detect deceit. Last, we
add to this list the single cue heuristic, the oversimplified belief
that all liars under all circumstances can be identified via single
clear-cut cues. The belief that ‘‘liars look away’’ is probably the
most popular example in this category (the gaze aversion heur-
istic; The Global Deception Team, 2006; Porter & ten Brinke,
Neglect of interpersonal differences
Obviously, there are large individual differences in people’s
behavior and speech (DePaulo & Friedman, 1998). Some
people typically make many movements, others do not; some
people are eloquent, others are not; some people show large
variations in physiological responses, others do not, and so
on. Although verbal lie-detection tools such as statement valid-
ity assessments attempt to control for these interpersonal beha-
vioral differences via a validity checklist (Vrij, 2005, 2008a),
assessing the impact of these individual differences remains a
difficult task. Take, for example, controlling for susceptibility
to suggestion, one of the factors appearing on the checklist.
Some interviewees are more prone to an interviewers’ sugges-
tions than are others. The danger of suggestibility is that a sug-
gestible person may be inclined to provide information that
confirms the interviewer’s expectations but that, in fact, is inac-
curate. If the suggestible person is aware that the information
that he or she provides is inaccurate, he or she is lying. Accord-
ingly, Yuille (1988) and Landry and Brigham (1992) have rec-
ommended asking the interviewee a few misleading questions
at the end of the interview to assess his or her susceptibility to
suggestion. Because asking such questions about central infor-
mation could harm the statement (it could contaminate some-
one’s memory; Loftus, 2005; Loftus & Palmer, 1974; Porter,
Yuille, & Lehman, 1999), Yuille (1988) recommends focusing
on peripheral information (e.g., ‘‘When you were with your
sister, which friend was also there, Claire or Sarah?’’ when the
Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection 99
interviewer is aware that there was no friend present).
However, being restricted to asking questions about peripheral
information is problematic because interviewees show more
resistance to suggestibility for central aspects of an event than
for peripheral aspects of an event (Dalton & Daneman, 2006;
Goodman, Rudy, Bottoms, & Aman, 1990; Porter, Spencer,
& Birt, 2003), and they are more resistant to suggestibility for
stressful events, most likely the central information, than for
less stressful events, most likely the peripheral information
(Davies, 1991; Porter & Peace, 2007). Therefore, insight into
interviewees’ suggestibility for peripheral parts of the event
cannot be effectively used to draw conclusions about their
suggestibility for core events.
Nonetheless, professionals using statement validity assess-
ments at least attempt to control for individual differences.
Often, observers do not make such attempts when evaluating
behavioral responses (Vrij, 2008a). Accordingly, people whose
natural behavior looks ‘‘suspicious’’ (e.g., they are fidgety) run
the risk of being falsely accused of lying. The literature pro-
vides examples of nervous-looking people whose nervousness
led to being falsely accused. For example, in Florida, Tom
Sawyer was interrogated for 16 hours regarding a sexual assault
and murder and was issued threats, after which he gave a con-
fession that likely was false. He became a prime suspect
because he appeared embarrassed and his face flushed during
an initial interview in which he denied involvement in the
crime (Meissner & Kassin, 2002). In a notorious Canadian
case, 14-year-old Steven Truscott was falsely convicted for the
1959 rape and murder of Lynn Harpur. In an initial interview
with the suspect, inspector Graham observed that Truscott
acted nervously and described him as a ‘‘lying, sexual devi-
ant,’’ initiating a process of tunnel vision that led to the boy’s
conviction and death sentence, later overturned (Porter & ten
Brinke, 2009).
The tendency to interpret nervous behaviors as suspicious
without taking individual differences into account puts several
groups of people at risk, including introverted individuals and
people who are socially anxious. The social clumsiness of
introverts and the impression of tension, nervousness, or fear
that is naturally given off by socially anxious individuals
(DePaulo, Epstein, & LeMay, 1990; Riggio, Tucker, & Throck-
morton, 1988; Schlenker & Leary, 1982) may be interpreted by
observers as indicators of deception.
Errors are also easily made when people of different ethnic
backgrounds or cultures interact, because behaviors naturally
displayed by members of one ethnic group or culture may
appear suspicious to members of another ethnic group or cul-
ture. Nonverbal behavior is culturally mediated. For example,
Black Americans display more gaze aversion than do White
Americans (Johnson, 2006a, 2006b; LaFrance & Mayo, 1976,
1978), and people from Turkey and Morocco who are living
in the Netherlands show more gaze aversion than do native
Dutch people (Van Rossum, 1998; Vrij, Dragt, & Koppelaar,
1992). It thus appears that looking into the eyes of the conver-
sation partner is typical Caucasian behavior that is often not
displayed by non-Caucasian individuals. Differences in culture
contribute to this effect. Looking into the eyes of a
conversation partner is regarded as polite in Western cultures
but is considered to be rude in several other cultures such as,
for example, Japan (Vrij & Winkel, 1991; Vrij, Winkel, &
Koppelaar, 1991; Winkel & Vrij, 1990). Many groups of
Aboriginals in Canada suppress expressions of their emotions,
and such apparent flat affect may be considered inconsistent
with the context at hand, and it may be interpreted as a sign
of deception or lack of remorse by decision makers (Porter &
ten Brinke, 2009). Brant (1993, p. 261) observed that most
Caucasian Canadians see ‘‘people who do not provide direct
eye contact ... as being shifty, devious, dishonest, crooks,
slippery, untrustworthy, etc.’’ In contrast, most Aboriginal cul-
tures in Canada consider direct, sustained eye contact as rude,
hostile, and intrusive. That is, the Aboriginal custom of avoid-
ing eye contact as a sign of respect may easily be interpreted as
an indication of deception by non-Aboriginal observers,
including members of the judiciary.
Researchers have found other culturally determined differ-
ences in nonverbal behavior. For example, in the Netherlands,
an experiment examining the nonverbal behavioral patterns of
native Dutch Caucasian and Black Surinamese residents (citi-
zens originated from Suriname, a former Dutch colony, but
now living in the Netherlands) revealed large behavioral differ-
ences between the two groups, regardless of whether they were
telling the truth or lying. Surinamese people made more speech
disturbances, exhibited more gaze aversion, smiled more, and
made more self-adaptors (e.g., fidgeting) and illustrators
whether lying or not (Vrij & Winkel, 1991). In the United
States, Johnson (2006a, 2006b) reviewed 120 videotaped
police–citizen interactions of a noncriminal nature. The find-
ings replicated those of Vrij and Winkel (1991) in that Blacks
displayed more gaze aversion, smiling, and hand gestures than
did Whites.
This means that observers need to be careful in cross-
cultural interactions and should interpret the nonverbal beha-
viors displayed by senders of a different ethnic origin in light
of cultural differences (Ruby & Brigham, 1997; Vrij, 2008a).
Experimental research has demonstrated that this does not
always happen and that cross-cultural nonverbal communica-
tion errors occur. That is, nonverbal behavioral patterns that are
typical for an ethnic group are interpreted by Caucasian observ-
ers as signs of deception (Vrij & Winkel, 1992, 1994). It is
important to note that these issues are relevant not only for
police investigators, but also for professionals working in the
immigration service (Granhag, Stro¨ mwall, & Hartwig, 2005).
Neglect of intrapersonal variations
Different people respond differently not only in the same situ-
ation (interpersonal differences), but also in different contexts
(intrapersonal differences). Neglecting or underestimating
intrapersonal differences is another error that lie catchers make.
In police interviews, detectives are advised to examine a sus-
pect’s natural, truthful behavior during the small talk preceding
the interview and to compare this behavior with the behavior
100 Vrij et al.
shown by the suspect during the actual interview. Differences
in behavior could then be interpreted as ‘‘significant’’ (Inbau
et al., 2001). This approach is also used and advocated by
researchers (Frank, Yarbrough, & Ekman, 2006; Hirsch &
Wolf, 2001). Although the approach sounds appealing, it is
conducive to forming incorrect judgments because it is based
on an incongruent comparison. Engaging in small talk and dis-
cussing the crime itself are fundamentally different situations.
Small-talk conversations are low-stakes situations in which the
suspect’s responses are unlikely to have any negative
consequences. In contrast, the core investigative elements of
the interview are high-stakes situations in which the suspect’s
reactions and responses are critical. Therefore, it is not surpris-
ing that both guilty and innocent suspects tend to show differ-
ent behaviors during small talk compared to during the actual
interview (Vrij, 1995). This problematic issue also plagues the
control-question polygraph test, because it is difficult to come
up with control questions that are as significant as the key ques-
tions concerning the crime (National Research Council, 2003).
The tendency to neglect or underestimate the importance of
intrapersonal differences is an error that not only lie detectors
make; it is a well-known error in social perception and relates
to the fundamental attribution error (Ross, 1977).
Existing interview techniques
Many interview strategies advocated by police manuals can
impair lie detection. For example, police detectives are some-
times advised to confront suspects at the beginning of the inter-
view with the evidence they have previously in their
investigation (Hartwig et al., 2006; Leo, 1996). This tactic is
designed to show suspects that it is fruitless to remain silent and
that they are better off confessing. Experimental research has
revealed that this interview style hampers lie detection
(Hartwig, Granhag, Stro¨ mwall, & Vrij, 2005). One of the prob-
lems liars can face is ignorance about the level of knowledge
held by the observer. This makes it difficult to know what they
can say without assuming the risk of offering statements that
are contradictory with known facts. If police officers promptly
disclose their knowledge, they reduce the uncertainty for
deceptive suspects and may inadvertently facilitate the ease
of lying. Disclosing evidence early on provides liars with the
opportunity to change their stories and to give an innocent
explanation for the evidence.
Another misguided strategy from an informed lie-detection
perspective is to accuse someone of lying. This affords decep-
tive suspects the ideal opportunity to ‘‘escape’’ from the inter-
view situation by saying that they will no longer cooperate with
the investigation, claiming that further cooperation is futile
because they are not believed anyway. Also, accusing someone
of lying may elicit the same responses in liars and truth tellers.
That is, both suspects correctly accused of lying and those
wrongly accused of lying may become afraid of not being
believed (Ofshe & Leo, 1997). Because of that fear, both
groups may show the same nervous responses (C.F. Bond &
Fahey, 1987).
Overconfidence in lie-detection skills
The final error that we will highlight is that professional lie
catchers tend to overestimate their ability to detect deceit.
Research has consistently shown that when professional lie
catchers and laypersons are compared, professionals are more
confident in their veracity judgments but are no more accurate
(DePaulo & Pfeifer, 1986; Garrido, Masip, & Herrero, 2004;
Kassin, Meissner, & Norwick, 2005; Meissner & Kassin,
2002). This tendency to overconfidence is not unique to police
officers but is common among many groups of professionals
in carrying out their job duties (Allwood & Granhag, 1999).
Further, some research has suggested that more experienced
professional lie catchers are more confident in their credibility-
assessment abilities than are their less experienced counterparts
but that they are no more accurate (e.g., Porter et al., 2000).
The overconfidence could, in part, be explained by overzea-
lous promotion of lie-detection tools by those with commercial
interests. No lie-detection tool used to date that is based on ana-
lyzing nonverbal and verbal behavior is accurate—far from it
(Vrij, 2008a). Despite the fallibility of those tests, Paul Ekman,
an American emeritus professor of psychology who has specia-
lized in nonverbal cues to deceit, said in an interview with The
New York Times (Henig, 2006) that his system of lie detection
can be taught to anyone, with an accuracy of more than 95%.
However, there is no published study that supports this claim.
In a similar vein, one of the interview techniques discussed
in detail in Inbau et al.’s (2001) manual is the behavior analysis
interview. The authors claimed that interviewers specifically
trained and experienced in behavior analysis assessment can
correctly identify the truthfulness of a person 85%of the time.
However, conclusive evidence to support this claim is lacking
(Blair & Kooi, 2004; Horvath, Jayne, & Buckley, 1994; Vrij,
Mann, & Fisher, 2006a; Vrij, Mann, Kristen, & Fisher, 2007).
Confidence in lie detection is not related to accuracy. In a
meta-analysis of the confidence–accuracy relation that
included 18 samples, the relation appeared to be virtually non-
existent (r¼.04), not differing significantly from zero
(DePaulo, Charlton, Cooper, Lindsay, & Muhlenbruck,
1997). Such a low correlation between confidence and accu-
racy is not unique for veracity judgments; other areas of cogni-
tive performance, such as eyewitness identification, reveal a
similar pattern (Sporer, Penrod, Read, & Cutler, 1995).
High confidence in one’s ability to catch liars can be harm-
ful when the confidence is unjustified (Kalbfleisch, 1992).
High confidence often results in making quick decisions on the
basis of limited information (Levine & McCornack, 1992;
Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979), or tunnel vision (Porter & ten
Brinke, 2010). In addition, high confidence may make investi-
gators attempt to detect lies via demeanor alone and not search
for physical evidence (Colwell, Miller, Lyons, & Miller, 2006).
High confidence also is likely to reduce motivation to learn
more about lie detection, because investigators may consider
themselves already experts in the area. An unwillingness to
learn more about lie detection is obviously undesirable, given
professional lie catchers’ typically low performance at the task
Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection 101
(C.F. Bond & DePaulo, 2006; Vrij, 2008a). Regarding this
performance, Vrij reviewed 28 lie-detection studies with pro-
fessionals (e.g., police officers, police detectives, parole offi-
cers) as lie detectors. On average, these professionals
correctly classified 56%of liars and 56%of truth tellers,
whereas 50%could be expected by chance alone. A lively dis-
cussion about the existence of individual differences in the
ability to detect deceit has recently emerged.
Overconfidence is a problem not only when it comes to
one’s general ability to detect lies but also when it leads to seri-
ous problems in an individual veracity assessment. For exam-
ple, overconfidence in assessing a denying (but guilty)
suspect as a truth teller will result in the suspect being released,
and it provides opportunities for the suspect to commit more
crimes. In addition, if a police detective is confident that a sus-
pect is lying, he or she may subject the suspect to persuasive
interrogation techniques in order to obtain a confession. This
can harm innocent suspects in particular. Kassin, Goldstein,
and Savitsky (2003) found that when innocent suspects are mis-
takenly identified as guilty, an interrogation style that is even
more coercive than those experienced by guilty suspects can
occur. That is, interrogators who do not believe the innocent
suspect’s denials are inclined to double their efforts to elicit a
confession (Kassin et al.).
Opportunities in Lie Detection
Avoiding the errors
Avoid examining the wrong cues and pay attention to the
more diagnostic verbal and nonverbal cues to deceit. As
previously discussed, observers often base their veracity deci-
sions on cues that are not diagnostic of deception. Thus, it
sounds plausible that observers may become better at discrimi-
nating truths and lies if they are taught to pay attention instead
to deception cues that are more diagnostic. Several training
studies have addressed this issue, and these are reviewed in
detail by Frank and Feeley (2003) and Vrij (2008a).
In all extant training studies, observers have been exposed to
short videotaped or audiotaped interviews with a number of
people who were telling either truths or lies. Generally, 1 of
3 procedures was used. Some studies have used a focusing pro-
cedure in which observers are asked to pay attention to specific
cues and ignore others. Other studies have used an information
procedure in which observers receive information about the
actual relation between certain behaviors and deception. Yet
other studies have used an outcome feedback procedure in
which each time observers made a decision, they are informed
about the accuracy of that decision. In all three types of proce-
dures, the performance of these trained participants is then
compared with the performance of untrained and uninformed
(control) participants.
Most studies have revealed that trained observers are better
at distinguishing between truths and lies than are control
observers, regardless of the training method used. However,
these improvements have typically been small. On average, the
control observers detected 53.4%of the truths and lies cor-
rectly, and the trained observers 57.66%. In other words, peo-
ple can, to a limited extent, be trained to become better lie
The training studies have revealed two more outcomes that
are worth discussing. First, Levine, Feeley, McCornack,
Hughes, and Harms’s (2005) experiment included bogus train-
ing groups that were taught cues that are not diagnostic cues to
deception. They found that sometimes these bogus training
groups performed better than the control groups, suggesting
that the simple act of training, rather than the content of the
training, may improve accuracy. In alignment with this, Porter,
Woodworth, McCabe, and Peace (2007) found that the provi-
sion of any feedback (accurate or inaccurate) following decep-
tion judgments had a positive, albeit modest, influence on
deception detection. It could be that the trained observers
assessed the messages more critically than the control observ-
ers (Levine et al., 2005). Alternatively, training may make
observers more motivated to perform well (Hartwig & Bond,
Other studies have showed worse performance by trained
observers than by control observers. For example, when Kassin
and Fong (1999) trained observers to examine the cues taught
by the Inbau group as reported in their manual (Inbau et al.,
2001), the observers performed worse than their untrained
counterparts. In other studies where it was found that training
impaired lie detection (Ko¨ hnken, 1987; Vrij, 1994; Vrij &
Graham, 1997), the observers were police officers rather than
undergraduate students. Vrij and Graham found that the stu-
dents performed better as a result of the information they
received, whereas police officers performed worse after having
received the same information. We can only speculate as to
why police officers do not appear to benefit from the provision
of such information. One explanation is that the information
confuses them (see also Ko¨ hnken). Perhaps the information
Vrij and Graham gave about the relation between personality
traits and deceptive behavior was beyond the grasp of the
police officers who are probably not familiar with personality
theories. The student observers in their experiment were psy-
chology students and hence familiar with personality theories
(albeit not with the relation between personality traits and
deception). A second explanation is that police officers refused
to use the information provided because it contradicted their
own beliefs. For example, in Vrij’s (1994) study, the observers
were told that liars typically show a decrease in hand and finger
movements, whereas police officers typically assume that an
increase in hand and finger movements indicates deception.
Perhaps the officers refused to accept the information provided
by an outsider (the experimenter) and continued to rely on their
own experience and beliefs instead.
The small improvements found in research may not necessa-
rily reflect the true potential of teaching people to detect deceit.
The training programs were typically brief and sometimes
lasted no more than 15 minutes. Longer, more intensive train-
ing sessions such as the ones used in Porter et al.’s (2000) study
(2-day training: pretraining vs. posttraining, 40.4%vs. 76.7%)
102 Vrij et al.
and in Porter, Juodis, ten Brinke, Klein, and Wilson’s (2010)
study (2-hour training: pretraining vs. posttraining, 51.2%vs.
60.7%) achieved greater success. The training programs also
did not address the complex nature of lie detection. For exam-
ple, in studies using the information procedure, observers were
taught a set of cues that liars may display. This approach is lim-
ited because not all liars will show these specific sets of cues.
Moreover, in all of these studies, the observers were exposed to
low-stakes truths and lies, and low-stakes situations do not pro-
vide much opportunity to detect deception. It could thus be pos-
sible that training has larger effects if observers are given more
sophisticated training and are exposed to truths and lies told in
high-stakes situations.
We believe, however, that training programs as described in
this section will never yield high accuracy rates. The limitation
of these programs is that trainees are restricted to passive obser-
vation of truth tellers and liars. Such a method is limited
because cues of deception are faint and unreliable. We there-
fore see more potential in training programs that teach trainees
to actively elicit or enhance diagnostic cues to deception. In the
section on ‘‘Exploiting the Different Mental Processes of Truth
Tellers and Liars,’’ we present interview styles designed to
achieve this.
Avoid relying on nonverbal cues only. Research addressing
the individual strategies of lie detectors has indicated that
detecting truths and lies becomes more successful when speech
content is taken into account. Mann et al. (2004) showed 99
police officers 54 videotaped fragments of police interviews
with murderers, rapists, and arsonists and found that good lie
detectors reported to have relied upon verbal cues (e.g., vague
reply, contradictions in story) more often than did poor lie
detectors. In addition, there was an inverse relation between the
number of visual cues reported to have been relied upon (e.g.,
gaze aversion, posture, movements) and accuracy. In particu-
lar, police officers who mentioned that liars look away and fid-
get achieved the poorest scores. In other words, those who
listened carefully to what suspects had to say were better lie
detectors than those who concentrated on suspects’ nonverbal
D.E. Anderson, DePaulo, Ansfield, Tickle, and Green
(1999) and Feeley and Young (2000) found a positive relation
between the number of vocal cues that participants reported to
have relied upon (e.g., speech errors, speech fillers, pauses,
voice) and accuracy. In a study in which participants attempted
to detect truths and lies told by a convicted murderer, partici-
pants who mentioned gaze aversion and fidgeting as cues to
deceit achieved the lowest accuracy scores (Vrij & Mann,
2001a). Also, Porter et al. (2007) found that the more visual
cues the participants reported, the worse their ability to distin-
guish truths and lies. In summary, all of these studies showed
that in order to detect lies, listening carefully to what is said
is necessary and that merely paying attention to behavior
impairs lie detection.
Another body of research suggests that a ‘‘holistic’
approach to detecting deception may be ideal. Ekman and
O’Sullivan (1991) found that participants who reported to have
relied upon both vocal/verbal and visual cues obtained higher
accuracy rates than did participants who reported to have relied
upon only vocal/verbal or visual cues. This is supported by
experimental research in which the nonverbal and verbal cues
of truth tellers and liars were examined. That research has
demonstrated that the best classifications of truths and lies are
made when both sets of cues are taken into account (Porter &
Yuille, 1996; Porter et al., 1999; Vrij, Akehurst, Soukara, &
Bull, 2004a; Vrij, Edward, Roberts, & Bull, 2000; Vrij, Evans,
Akehurst, & Mann, 2004). Thus, attendance to multiple cues
from words and the visual channel should provide the lie
catcher with better ammunition for the task at hand (Porter &
ten Brinke, 2010).
Observers can pay attention to nonverbal behavior and
speech simultaneously in three different ways, which all
enhance lie detection. First, observers could take into account
both nonverbal and verbal cues without looking at the relation
between the two sets of cues. This was the case in the previ-
ously discussed research. Second, observers could examine
nonverbal behavior in relation to speech content, an approach
common in communication research (Bavelas & Chovil,
2006; Bavelas, Chovil, Coates, & Roe, 1995; Bavelas &
Gerwing, 2007; P. Bull, 2009; Freedman, 1972; Kendon,
1994, 2004; McNeill, 1985, 1992) but often ignored by decep-
tion researchers. A recent experiment showed the potential of
this approach (Caso, Maricchiolo, Bonaiuto, Vrij, & Mann,
2006). When the entire interview was taken into account, truth
tellers and liars displayed a similar number of illustrators.
Differences did emerge between truth tellers and liars only
when specific types of illustrators were examined when
answering specific questions. Third, observers could examine
mismatches between nonverbal behavior and speech content
(Ekman, 1985/2001; Ekman & O’Sullivan, 2006). Thus, a per-
son who makes a head shake while agreeing to cooperate may
not actually be as cooperative as he or she wants to appear.
Thus, although a perfectly reliable cue to deception does not
exist, the combination of attention to changes in nonverbal/
body language, verbal, and facial channels—ideally videotaped
to permit review and systematic analysis—can provide the
basis for an informed opinion about credibility as long as it is
backed by other evidence (Porter & ten Brinke, 2010).
However, mistakes are easily made. For example, some peo-
ple display clear signs of distress when they talk about a nega-
tive event they have experienced, whereas others do not
(Burgess, 1985; Burgess & Homstrom, 1974; Vrij & Fischer,
1995). Thus, the varying communication styles represent a per-
sonality factor (Littman & Szewczyk, 1983). However, observ-
ers, including police detectives, typically believe that absence
of distress during an interview about an upsetting event is a
valid indicator of deceit (Greuel, 1992). As a result, different
emotional displays have a differential effect on the perceived
credibility of complainants, and emotional victims are more
readily believed than victims who report their experience in a
controlled manner (Baldry & Winkel, 1998; Baldry, Winkel,
& Enthoven, 1997; Bollingmo, Wessel, Sandvold, Eilertsen,
Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection 103
& Magnussen, 2009; Bothwell & Jalil, 1992; Kaufmann,
Drevland, Wessel, Overskeid, & Magnussen, 2003; Vrij &
Fischer, 1997; Wessel, Drevland, Eilertsen, & Magnussen,
2006; Winkel & Koppelaar, 1991).
Another relevant point relating to the potential for misinter-
pretation by the lie catcher concerns facial expressions. Ekman
has long argued that deceptive emotional information is
betrayed (leaked) by microexpressions, fleeting but complete
facial expressions that are thought to reveal the felt emotion
during emotional concealment and are suppressed within
1/5th to 1/25th of a second (Ekman, 1985/2001). This idea has
enjoyed increasing popularity in the media (Henig, 2006) and
scientific community (Schubert, 2006), despite being backed
by little empirical research. Porter and ten Brinke (2008) con-
ducted the first thorough investigation of facial expressions
associated with genuine and deceptive emotions. Participants
viewed disgusting, sad, frightening, happy, and neutral images,
responding to each with a genuine emotion or a deceptive one,
by either masking, replacing one emotion with another,
or simulating, creating an emotional expression in a neutral
state, while being judged by ‘‘blind’’ observers. The research-
ers analyzed each 1/30-second frame (104,550 frames in 697
expressions) for the presence of the muscle actions of the uni-
versal expressions and for the presence of microexpressions.
Their findings indicated that emotional expressions inconsis-
tent with the intended display did occur more frequently in
the masked condition than in the genuine or simulated condi-
tions. All participants showed such predicted ‘‘leakage’’ on at
least one attempt at faking an emotion. However, Porter and
ten Brinke found only a small number of partial (lower or
upper face) microexpressions. Although some of the microex-
pressions betrayed the hidden emotion, they sometimes
occurred during genuine expressions. The leakage was typi-
cally longer and more salient than Ekman had predicted.
As such, the lie catcher should attend to the expressions that
are inconsistent with what is being said or with the context,
but he or she should be cognizant that these expressions can
be meaningless. Therefore, when lie detectors believe that
there is a mismatch between someone’s nonverbal behavior
and speech content, they should be careful about how to
interpret it. A final judgment that the person is lying should
not be made too quickly, and alternative explanations should
be considered. In this context, some researchers refer to these
cues as ‘‘hotspots’’ deserving further attention rather than as
being necessarily indicative of lying (Frank et al., 2006, p.
234). There is a serious risk that nonverbal hotspots are too
easily interpreted as lies. In that context, we underline Porter
and ten Brinke’s (2010) conclusion that nonverbal cues only
assist investigators who are informed about the complex rela-
tions between behavior and deceit.
Avoid the Othello error: Consider alternative explanations
when interpreting cues of emotions and cognitive load.
As previously mentioned, the Othello error refers to mista-
kenly interpreting signs of nervousness as cues to deceit. The
difficulty that lie detectors face is that both liars and truth
tellers may display signs of emotions and/or nervousness in
high-stakes situations. Consider the distress one must feel to
be falsely accused by the police of having committed a serious
crime or by a partner about having had an affair. Emotion cues
may not conclusively demonstrate that someone is lying, and
the lie detector should thus be cautious in interpreting such cues
as signs of deceit. Instead, in interpreting emotional responses,
the lie detector should consider questions such as the following:
‘Is my questioning likely to evoke emotions in the respondent,
regardless of whether he or she is guilty?’’ ‘‘Is the present sit-
uation likely to evoke emotions in the respondent anyway?’
And ‘‘Is this person the type who is likely to be emotional in
this situation anyway?’’ (Ekman, 1985/2001).
In theory, another cluster of cues could betray deception—
cues associated with having to think hard (labeled cognitive
load; Buller & Burgoon, 1996; DePaulo et al., 2003; Ekman,
1985/2001; Vrij, 2008a). For example, Porter and ten Brinke
(2008) found that when participants worked hard to neutra-
lize an emotion (e.g., maintaining a neutral expression when
viewing a horrific accident scene), their blink rate lowered
relative to when they expressed a genuine emotion (e.g.,
showing fear or horror when viewing the same scene).
A decrease in blink rate is a sign of cognitive load (Bageley
& Manelis, 1979). In forensic settings, however, such cues
are not solely exhibited by liars; truth tellers may have to
think hard while answering questions in a cognitively and
emotionally complex context. Again, in interpreting cues of
cognitive load, the lie detector should ask him- or herself the
same kinds of questions as when interpreting signs of emo-
tions, such as ‘‘Is my questioning likely to evoke cognitive
load in the respondent, regardless of whether he or she is
Avoid relying on heuristics and rely on multiple cues in a
flexible manner. As previously discussed, deception research
has revealed that no single behavioral or verbal cue is uniquely
related to deception. In other words, there is no giveaway clue
like Pinocchio’s nose. Instead, different people show different
cues to deception in a given situation (i.e., interpersonal differ-
ences) and the same person shows different cues to deception
on different occasions (i.e., intrapersonal differences). There-
fore, it is inappropriate to use fixed decision rules on the basis
of heuristics such as ‘‘liars look away’’ when attempting to
detect deceit. In fact, research has demonstrated that people
who focus on single nonverbal or verbal cues are typically poor
lie detectors (Mann et al., 2004; Vrij & Mann, 2001a). Instead,
it is better to make veracity assessments on the basis of multiple
cues (Ekman, O’Sullivan, Friesen, & Scherer, 1991; Porter &
ten Brinke, 2010; Vrij et al., 2004a; Vrij, Edward, et al.,
2000; Vrij & Mann, 2004). However, even such clusters of cues
do not fit all liars; they also do not fit a particular liar in all
situations. In other words, fixed decision rules that include mul-
tiple cues are not satisfactory either. Instead, better accuracy
rates are achieved by using flexible decision rules that include
multiple cues (Ekman & O’Sullivan, 1991; Ekman, O’Sullivan,
& Frank, 1999; Mann et al., 2004; Vrij, 2008a).
104 Vrij et al.
Take into account inter- and intrapersonal differences and
pay attention to deviations from a person’s honest
reactions in similar situations: The comparable truth. Lie
detectors should take inter- and intrapersonal differences into
account when making veracity judgments. Therefore, the rele-
vant question for the lie detector to ask is whether the nonver-
bal behavior and speech patterns displayed by a person differ
from this person’s known behavior when delivering truthful
responses. As discussed earlier, we advise police detectives
to examine a suspect’s natural truthful behavior during the
small-talk preceding the interview and to compare this beha-
vior with the behavior displayed by the suspect during the
actual interview. This approach is prone to incorrect judg-
ments, because engaging in small talk and discussing the crime
are two fundamentally different situations. For this technique
to work, it is essential that the known truthful response (e.g.,
baseline response) is made under similar conditions to the
response under investigation, labeled the comparable truth
(Vrij, 2008a). People react differently in formal settings (e.g.,
during a selection interview) than in informal settings (e.g.,
when at home with the family). According to Vrij (2006), they
also react differently when they are accused of wrongdoing
(e.g., situation during the actual interview) than when they are
unchallenged (e.g., situation during small talk), and they
respond differently in high-stakes situations than in low-
stakes situations (Porter & ten Brinke, 2010; Vrij, 1995). In
addition, people show different behaviors when they are inter-
viewed by different people (Vrij & Winkel, 1991). Behavior is
also topic related: People respond differently when discussing a
topic that embarrasses them than they do when discussing a
neutral topic (Kleinke, 1986), and they respond differently
when discussing a topic that they care about or is important
to them than they do when discussing a topic with which they
have less personal involvement (Davis & Hadiks, 1995; Matar-
azzo, Wiens, Jackson, & Manaugh, 1970). Last, people’s beha-
vior sometimes varies over time in the same interview (Buller
& Burgoon, 1996; Burgoon et al., 1999; Stiff, Corman, Krizek,
& Snider, 1994; White & Burgoon, 2001), or, if they are inter-
viewed on more than one occasion, changes may occur over
repeated interviews (Granhag & Stro¨ mwall, 2002). Therefore,
when lie detectors wish to compare a person’s given nonverbal
response with his or her truthful nonverbal response, they need
to make sure that the given and truthful responses are taken
from the same interview setting, that the person talks about
similar topics in the given and truthful parts, and that these
topics are discussed within a short period of time.
Vrij and Mann (2001a) provided an example of how the
comparable-truth technique could be used. During a videotaped
real-life police interview, a man suspected and later convicted
of murder was asked to describe his activities during a partic-
ular day. The murder suspect described his activities during the
morning (went to work), afternoon (visited a market) and eve-
ning (visited a neighbor). Detailed analyses of the videotape
revealed a sudden change in behavior as soon as he began to
describe his activities during the afternoon and evening. A
possible reason for this variation may have been that he was
lying, a view supported by the evidence. Police investigators
could confirm his story with regard to his morning activities,
but they revealed that his statement about the afternoon and
evening was fabricated. In reality, he met the victim in the
afternoon and killed her later that day. In this case, we were
able to make a good comparison. The man described a see-
mingly normal day, and there are no good reasons why differ-
ent behaviors would emerge while describing different parts of
that day.
The comparable-truth technique has inevitable shortcom-
ings, and mistakes will still be made with its application. The
main problem is that it is difficult to rule out that the observed
nonverbal and verbal differences are caused by factors other
than deceit. Open-mindedness when interpreting the differ-
ences in behavior and speech is thus crucial. Also, differences
between the baseline behavior and speech and the behavior and
speech under investigation may be subtle and therefore difficult
to spot. Last, an absence of behavioral and speech-related dif-
ferences between the baseline behavior and speech and those
under investigation does not necessarily mean that the person
is telling the truth.
Exploiting the different mental processes of
truth tellers and liars
The first five guidelines share one feature: They all aim to
examine and interpret more carefully the nonverbal and verbal
cues displayed by liars. And they have one serious limitation:
The cues that lie detectors are encouraged to examine and inter-
pret are faint and unreliable. In this section we discuss a funda-
mentally different approach to nonverbal and verbal lie
detection: to elicit more, more blatant, and more reliable cues
to deceit. We achieve this aim by exploiting the different psy-
chological states of truth tellers and liars via two different
approaches. The first approach, strategic questioning, uses spe-
cific questions that elicit the most differential responses
between truth tellers and liars. The second, imposing cognitive
load, makes the interview setting more difficult for intervie-
wees. We argue that this affects liars more than truth tellers,
thereby resulting in more and more blatant differences between
the two. Both approaches require interviewees to talk. Intervie-
wees can be encouraged to talk via an information-gathering
interview style, as discussed in the subsequent section.
Use an information-gathering interview style. The police
commonly use two types of interview styles: information–
gathering and accusatory (Moston & Engelberg, 1993). In the
information–gathering style, interviewers ask suspects to give
detailed statements about their activities through open ques-
tions (e.g., ‘‘What did you do yesterday between 3 p.m. and
4 p.m.?’’ ‘‘You just mentioned that you went to the gym; who
else was there?’’). By comparison, in the accusatory style,
interviewers confront suspects with accusations (e.g., ‘‘Your
reactions make me think that you are hiding something from
me.’’). Information-gathering interviews encourage suspects
to talk, whereas accusatory interviews often yield short denials
Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection 105
(e.g., ‘‘I am not hiding anything’’). Therefore, information-
gathering interviews typically elicit more information about
an event and result in longer responses than do accusatory
interviews (Fisher, Brennan, & McCauley, 2002; Vrij, Mann,
& Fisher, 2006b; Vrij et al., 2007).
An information-gathering interview style is desirable for lie-
detection purposes for several reasons. A good lie-detection
strategy is to check the factual information provided by an
alleged liar with the available evidence. The provision of a high
quantity of details, most likely to result from an information-
gathering interview, permits more opportunities for the lie
detector to identify inconsistencies and contradictions between
the answer and available evidence. Second, information-
gathering interviews result in more nonverbal cues to deceit
than do accusatory interviews (Vrij, 2006), because longer stor-
ies afford more opportunities for nonverbal cues to deception to
be displayed (DePaulo et al., 2003). In addition, being accused
of wrongdoing (i.e., accusatory interview style) is likely to
affect the behavior of both truth tellers and liars in a similar
way, and the accusation can have a stronger effect on some-
one’s nonverbal behavior than the act of lying itself (C.F. Bond
& Fahey, 1987; Ofshe & Leo, 1997). Consequently, differences
in nonverbal behavior between truth tellers and liars are over-
shadowed by the effects of the accusation.
The third advantage of conducting an information-gathering
interview is that it also results in more verbal cues to deceit
(Vrij et al., 2007). Longer stories afford more opportunities for
verbal cues of deceit to occur, because words are the carriers of
such cues. A criteria-based content analysis, for example,
requires the availability of a story and is not possible with an
outright denial. Fourth, information-gathering interviewing
does not involve accusing suspects of any wrongdoing or other
tactics designed to cause distress. It could be a safeguard
against false confessions that can occur with coercive interview
styles aimed at creating duress/distress (Gudjonsson, 2003;
Kassin, Appleby, & Torkildson-Perillo, 2010). Fifth, veracity
judgments in accusatory interviews are made with more confi-
dence than are those in information-gathering interviews (Vrij
et al., 2007), potentially leading to tunnel vision. If lie detectors
monitor their confidence and do not become overzealous
(which is known to impair lie-detection accuracy; Porter
et al., 2007), they are more likely to defer making such conclu-
sive judgments and gather more evidence (see also Levine &
McCornack, 1992).
Although the information-gathering interview is a good start
in discriminating truth and deceit, that approach alone is not
sufficient to elicit diagnostic cues to deception (Granhag &
Vrij, 2010; Vrij & Granhag, 2007). More sophisticated strate-
gies incorporated within the information-gathering interview
are needed and are discussed in the remaining part of this
The strategic-questioning approach: Ask unanticipated
questions. A consistent finding in deception literature is that,
when possible, liars prepare themselves for anticipated inter-
views (Granhag, Andersson, Stro¨mwall, & Hartwig, 2004;
Granhag, Stro¨mwall, & Jonsson, 2003; Hartwig et al., 2007;
Vrij et al., 2009). The act of planning and rehearsing a story can
lead to vulnerabilities that investigators can consider.
Rehearsal leads to overly scripted responses. One of the criteria
of criteria-based content analysis with the greatest support in
assessing credibility is unstructured reproduction (supported
in at least 50%of relevant studies; see Vrij, 2008a). Truthful
accounts tend to be more unstructured and less chronological
than rehearsed deceptive accounts, which tend to be overly
scripted and chronological (e.g., ‘‘I did this ... then this hap-
pened ... then I did this,’’ and so on). A liar wants to keep his
or her story straight (impression management) and will memor-
ize the details of the story in order (Porter & ten Brinke, 2010).
Further, the effectiveness of a liar’s planning strategy is lim-
ited, because it can only work when liars correctly anticipate
the questions that will be asked. Investigators can exploit this
limitation by asking questions that liars do not anticipate
(e.g., spatial questions) or by asking questions in a format that
liars do not anticipate (e.g., drawings).
In an empirical test of the unanticipated-questions tech-
nique, liars and truth tellers were interviewed individually
about having lunch together at a restaurant (Vrij et al., 2009).
Although the pairs of truth tellers did not have lunch together,
the liars were instructed to pretend that they had. All pairs were
given the opportunity to prepare for the interview. The inter-
viewer asked typical opening questions that the interviewees
later said they had anticipated (e.g., ‘‘What did you do in the
restaurant?’’), followed by questions about spatial details
(e.g., ‘‘In relation to the front door and where you sat, where
were the closest diners?’’) and temporal details (e.g., ‘‘Who fin-
ished their food first, you or your friend?’’) that the intervie-
wees said they had not anticipated. Further, they were asked
to draw the layout of the restaurant (unanticipated). On the
basis of the overlap in responses to the anticipated opening
questions between the individuals, the liars and truth tellers
could not be classified at a level above chance. However, on the
basis of the responses in the unanticipated questions, up to 80%
of pairs of liars and truth tellers could be correctly classified,
particularly when assessing drawings (i.e., the drawings were
less alike for the pairs of liars than they were for the truth tell-
ers). In summary, asking unanticipated questions about central
topics leads to identifiable betrayals among liars.
Asking unanticipated questions can also be effective when
assessing individual interviewees rather than pairs of intervie-
wees. An interviewer could ask the same question twice in the
same or different interviews. When liars have not anticipated
the question, they have to fabricate an answer on the spot. A
liar’s memory of this fabricated answer may be more unstable
than a truth teller’s memory of the actual event. Therefore, liars
may contradict themselves more than truth tellers may (Fisher,
Vrij, & Leins, in press). This approach probably works best if
the questions require detailed answers given in different for-
mats. Truth tellers will have encoded the topic of investigation
along more dimensions than will liars. As a result, compared
with liars, truth tellers should be able to recall the event more
flexibly (along more dimensions). Thus, the question ‘‘How old
106 Vrij et al.
are you?’’ followed by the question ‘‘What is your date of
birth?’’ is more difficult to answer for liars than for truth tellers
and results in longer latency periods in liars (Walczyk et al.,
2005). In addition, when asked to verbally describe and sketch
the layout of a restaurant, truth tellers’ verbal answers and
drawings show more overlap than do those of liars (Leins,
Fisher, Vrij, Leal, & Mann, in press).
Another experiment showed further promise for the use of
drawings as a lie-detection tool (Vrij, Leal, et al., 2010). The
researchers sent 31 participants on a mission that included
picking up a decoder from one agent and delivering it to a sec-
ond agent. After delivering the decoder to the second agent, the
participants were asked to (a) verbally describe what they had
seen at the location where they had received the decoder and
(b) sketch what they had seen at that location. Half of the par-
ticipants were told to answer with a lie and half were told to
answer with the truth. The liars were requested to pretend to
have been on a different mission in which they received the
decoder at a different location from a different agent. The
results indicated that the drawings were more useful for lie
detection than were the verbal accounts. Only 2 of 16 liars
(12.5%) included the pretend agent from whom they claimed
to have received the decoder in their drawing, whereas 12 of
15 truth tellers (80%) sketched the real agent from whom they
had received the decoder. In their verbal descriptions, again 2
of 16 liars (12.5%) mentioned the pretend agent from whom
they claimed to have received the decoder, whereas 8 of 15
truth tellers (53%) did mention the real agent. There are two
possible reasons why liars were inclined to omit the pretend
agent from the sketch and verbal description. First, since there
was no actual agent present at the location they claimed to have
received the decoder, they forgot to add an agent to their draw-
ings and descriptions. Second, liars may be reluctant to include
people in their drawings or verbal descriptions because it might
trigger further questions about who those people actually were.
Why did more truth tellers sketch the agent (80%) than verb-
ally described the agent (53%)? It may be hypothesized that
after sketching the stable elements, the truth tellers may have
noticed that the agent was missing from the drawing. After nar-
rating the stable elements of the location, however, truth tellers
will have been less aware of this omission because of difficul-
ties in building a mental picture of a location on the basis of
narratives. Future research could examine this hypothesis.
In a related vein, Liu et al. (2010) asked half of a group of
children (10–12 years of age) to tell the truth about a self-
experienced event and the other half to lie about such an event.
The researchers found that lying children were more willing to
answer odd questions (e.g., ‘‘Can you remember what you had
in your left pocket when being stung by the bee?’’) than were
truth-telling children, whereas no difference was found in the
willingness to answer standard questions. Hence, asking unan-
ticipated questions elicited a cue to deception (i.e., increased
willingness to answer the impossible questions). The finding
can be explained by acknowledging that the lying children had
to act to appear honest, whereas truth-telling children did not
have to do this. Liu et al. speculated that liars were afraid that
an ‘‘I don’t know’’ answer would sound suspicious. Hence,
merely acting in an honest manner might result in some actions
that are more rarely seen among those who are truly honest.
The strategic questioning approach: Ask temporal
questions when suspecting a scripted answer. A good strat-
egy for liars is to provide a story that is, in fact, true, but that
happened at a different time than the time of interest (see the
earlier section on embedded lies). For example, a guilty male
suspect who denies involvement in a crime could claim that
he was at the gym when the crime took place. If he is indeed
familiar with the gym, he can now truthfully recall an experi-
ence there, describe its layout, the equipment that he uses there,
and so on. The only fabricated part in this story is the time he
was there. Lie detectors should be aware of this lying strategy.
Questions about the layout of the gym and activities occurring
are not necessarily effective because they enable liars to relate
true experiences. Instead, questions should be asked that are
specifically related to the particular time that the interviewee
claims to have been where they say they were. For example, the
interviewer could ask time-related questions about key events,
such as which instructor was working at the time he or she
claims to have visited the gym, who else was present, and so
The specific question approach: The devil’s advocate
approach. Verbal lie-detection tools (such as statement valid-
ity assessments) are designed to distinguish between truths and
lies when people describe events that they claim to have expe-
rienced. As a result, many assessment criteria focus on percep-
tual detail to examine what people report having seen, heard,
felt, or smelled during these events. However, people lie not
only about their experiences but also about their opinions.
Determining the veracity of such conceptual representations
may not be important in typical police suspect interviews
because these are mainly concerned with detecting lies about
transgressions. However, it can be important in many security
settings such as, for example, when deciding whether an infor-
mant is (a) indeed as much anti-Taliban or against Muslim fun-
damentalism as he or she claims or (b) truly entering the United
Kingdom or the United States solely for the purpose of univer-
sity study. Incorrect veracity judgments can do irreparable
harm in such situations, as demonstrated by the loss of seven
CIA agents in Afghanistan on December 30, 2009. The CIA
agents were killed via a suicide attack by a man they thought
was going to give them information about Taliban and Al-
Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The CIA agents had
used polygraph tests to check the man’s sincerity and were
aware that he had posted extreme anti-American views on the
Internet. However, it was decided that the views he had
expressed were part of a good cover, and the possibility that
they were his real views was discounted (Leal, Vrij, Mann, &
Fisher, 2010).
The devil’s advocate lie-detection tool was developed to
detect truths and lies in expressing opinions. Interviewees are
first asked an opinion-eliciting question that induces them to
Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection 107
argue in favor of their personal view (‘‘What are your reasons
for supporting the Americans in the war in Afghanistan?’’).
This is followed by a question that asks participants to argue
against their personal view (‘‘Playing devil’s advocate, is there
anything you can say against the involvement of the Americans
in Afghanistan?’’).
People normally think more deeply about, and hence are
likely to be more able to generate reasons that support rather
than oppose their beliefs and opinions (Ajzen, 2001; Darley
& Gross, 1983; Waenke & Bless, 2000). Therefore, truth tellers
are likely to provide more information in their responses to the
opinion-eliciting question than to the devil’s advocate question.
This pattern is unlikely to to be found in liars because, for them,
the devil’s advocate question is more compatible with their
beliefs than is the opinion-eliciting question. In an experiment
testing the devil’s advocate approach (Leal et al., 2010), truth
tellers’ opinion-eliciting answers were longer than their devil’s
advocate answers. Also, observers judged that the truth tellers’
opinion-eliciting answers sounded more immediate and plausi-
ble and revealed more emotional involvement than did their
devil’s advocate answers. No clear differences emerged in
liars’ answers to the two types of question. On the basis of these
differences in speech content, 86%of truth tellers and 79%of
liars were correctly classified.
The specific question approach: The strategic use of
evidence. Guilty suspects (i.e., liars) and innocent suspects
(i.e., truth tellers) enter police interviews in a different mental
state (Granhag & Hartwig, 2008; Porter & Yuille, 1995). A
guilty suspects will have unique knowledge about the crime,
and this information, if it becomes known to the interviewer,
will make it obvious that they are the perpetrator. A liar’s main
concern will be to ensure that the interviewer does not gain
knowledge of their actions at the time of the crime. In contrast,
innocent suspects face the opposite problem, fearing that the
interviewer will not come to know what the suspect did at the
time of the crime. Research has shown that these different men-
tal states result in different strategies for liars and truth tellers
(Colwell et al., 2006; Granhag & Stro¨ mwall, 2002; Granhag,
Stro¨mwall, & Hartwig, 2007; Hartwig et al., 2007; Stro¨mwall
et al., 2007). Guilty suspects are inclined to use avoidance stra-
tegies (e.g., in a free recall, avoid mentioning where they were
at a certain place at a certain time) or denial strategies (e.g.,
denying to be at a certain place at a certain time when directly
asked). In contrast, innocent suspects neither avoid nor escape
but are forthcoming and tell the truth like it happened (Granhag
& Hartwig, 2008).
The strategic-use-of-evidence (SUE) technique addresses
how interviewers can consider these different strategies that
guilty and innocent suspects use when they possess potentially
incriminating information about a suspect (Granhag et al.,
2007; Hartwig et al., 2006). Suppose that a man who left his
briefcase in a bookstore on top of a box of stationery returns
to find that his wallet has been stolen from the briefcase. Fur-
ther suppose that the police found fingerprints on the briefcase
that did not belong to the owner but did belong to another
customer who had visited the bookshop. This makes the cus-
tomer a suspect but not necessarily the culprit; perhaps the cus-
tomer moved the briefcase to look in the box of stationery. In
such circumstances, the police need to interview the suspect
to find out the truth.
The first step of the SUE technique is to ask the suspect to
describe his or her activities (in this example, to describe his
or her activities in the bookshop) but not to reveal the finger-
print evidence. It is more likely that truth tellers will mention
the briefcase than will liars. Truth tellers have nothing to hide
and will recall what had happened, and this includes touching
the briefcase; liars do not wish to associate themselves with the
crime they have committed and thus distance themselves from
the briefcase. However, not mentioning touching the briefcase
still does not establish guilt, because truth tellers may simply
have forgotten to mention this minor detail. In the second phase
of the SUE technique, the questioning phase, the interviewer
asks questions, including those involving the briefcase, without
revealing the incriminating fingerprint evidence. There is a
chance that a liar will deny having touched the briefcase and
will thereby contradict the evidence known to the lie detector.
A truth teller would be more likely to reveal that he or she had
moved the briefcase. The third phase of the SUE technique is to
reveal the evidence and ask the suspect to explain any contra-
dictions between their account and the evidence. Here, it
should be noted that some contradictions may be caused by fac-
tors other than deceit such as, for example, a truth teller dis-
cussing an event in the distant past may simply misremember
some details. Hence, not every contradiction is a clear-cut sign
of deception.
Hartwig et al. (2006) tested the SUE technique in their
experiment, using the stolen wallet scenario previously men-
tioned. Swedish police trainees interviewed the mock suspects.
Half of the interviewers were trained how to use the SUE tech-
nique before the experiment and were asked to use this tech-
nique in the subsequent interview. The other half of the
interviewers did not receive training and were instructed to
interview the suspects in the manner of their own choice. The
untrained interviewers obtained a 56.1%accuracy rate, which
is similar to that typically found in nonverbal and verbal
deception-detection research (C.F. Bond & DePaulo, 2006;
Vrij, 2008a). SUE-trained interviewers, however, obtained an
85.4%accuracy rate. It appeared that guilty suspects contra-
dicted the evidence more than did innocent suspects, but more
important is that they did so particularly when they were inter-
viewed by SUE-trained interviewers.
The SUE technique differs from traditional police inter-
views in an important way. Traditionally, the police are
inclined to present the evidence (e.g., ‘‘Your fingerprints have
been found on the briefcase’’) at the beginning of the interview
(Hartwig et al., 2006; Leo, 1996). As we mentioned earlier, the
traditional police technique is limited because it gives the
guilty suspects the opportunity to fabricate a story that is con-
sistent with the evidence. The delayed disclosure of evidence
approach has other benefits. First, it encourages interviewers
to not show suspicion and enter the interview with an open
108 Vrij et al.
mind. Once people have made up their minds about the veracity
of a message, they have the tendency to interpret additional
information in such a way that it supports their decision (see the
dangerous decisions theory previously discussed). As a result,
after making up their minds, lie detectors run the risk of failing
to notice further important information or of misinterpreting
such information. Second, revealing suspicions may make truth
tellers feel uncomfortable and this may result in the Othello
error, the erroneous decision to interpret such nerves as a sign
of guilt. Third, suspiciousness may also result in escape routes
for liars. For example, it could result in them refusing to talk
any longer (e.g., ‘‘Why should I speak to you? You don’t
believe me anyway!’’).
Imposing cognitive load. As discussed earlier, deception the-
ories postulate that liars may be more nervous and may have to
think harder than truth tellers. However, research has shown
that liars often do not display cues of nervousness and cognitive
load and that cues to deception are typically faint and unreli-
able. But can interviewers go one step further? Are there inter-
view techniques that elicit and enhance differences in
nervousness or cognitive load? Together with the National
Research Council (2003), we do not think that questions can
be asked that will necessarily raise more concern in liars than
in truth tellers; thus none of the interventions that we will now
discuss aim to raise concern in interviewees. But research has
demonstrated that it is possible to enhance differences in cog-
nitive load between truth tellers and liars (Vrij et al., 2008; Vrij,
Mann, Leal, & Fisher, 2010), so this is the aim of the following
Lying can be more cognitively demanding than truth telling
for six reasons. First, formulating a lie itself may be cognitively
demanding. A liar needs to invent a story and must monitor his
or her fabrication so that it is plausible and adheres to every-
thing observers would know or might find out. In addition, liars
must remember what they have said to whom in order to main-
tain consistency. Liars should also avoid making slips of the
tongue, while refraining from providing new leads (Vrij,
A second aspect of lying that adds to mental load is the fact
that liars are typically less likely than truth tellers to take their
credibility for granted (DePaulo et al., 2003; Kassin, 2005;
Kassin, Appleby, & Torkildson-Perillo, 2010; Kassin &
Gudjonsson, 2004; Kassin & Norwick, 2004). Truth tellers
typically assume that their innocence shines through (Granhag
et al., 2007; Kassin; Kassin et al., 2009; Kassin & Gudjonsson;
Kassin & Norwick; Vrij, Mann, & Fisher, 2006b), which could
be explained with the illusion of transparency (Gilovich,
Savitsky, & Medvec, 1998), the belief that one’s inner feelings
will manifest themselves on the outside, and belief in a just
world (Lerner, 1980), the belief that people will get what they
deserve, and deserve what they get. Liars will be more inclined
than truth tellers to monitor and control their demeanor in order
to appear honest to the lie detector (DePaulo & Kirkendol,
1989), and such monitoring and controlling is cognitively
demanding (Baumeister, 1998). For example, the guilty suspect
may experience powerful emotions (e.g., fear, remorse, anger,
or even excitement) that must be hidden or faked, and that may
differ from those of the truth teller (Porter & ten Brinke, 2010).
Consider a woman publicly pleading for the safe return of her
partner who, in reality, she has murdered (see also Vrij &
Mann, 2001b). She must monitor her body language and emo-
tional expressions while keeping the details of the story
straight. A high level of cognitive load accompanies high-
stakes deception.
Third, because liars do not take credibility for granted, they
may monitor interviewers’ reactions more carefully in order
to assess whether their lies appear to be successful (Buller &
Burgoon, 1996; Schweitzer, Brodt, & Croson, 2002). Carefully
monitoring an interviewer also requires cognitive resources.
Fourth, liars may be preoccupied by the task of reminding
themselves to act and role play (DePaulo et al., 2003), which
requires extra cognitive effort. Fifth, liars have to suppress the
truth while they are lying, and this is also cognitively demand-
ing (Spence et al., 2001). Last, while activation of the truth
often happens automatically, activation of a lie is more inten-
tional and deliberate, and thus it requires mental effort (Gilbert,
1991; Walczyk, Roper, Seemann, & Humphrey, 2003;
Walczyk et al., 2005).
A lie detector could exploit the differential levels of cogni-
tive load that truth tellers and liars experience, in order to dis-
criminate more effectively between them. Liars who require
more cognitive resources than truth tellers for the act of story-
telling will have fewer cognitive resources left over than truth
tellers will. This makes liars vulnerable, and so if cognitive
demand is further raised—which could be achieved by making
additional requests—liars may not be as good as truth tellers in
coping with these additional requests.
One way to impose cognitive load on interviewees is by ask-
ing them to tell their stories in reverse order. This increases
cognitive load because (a) it runs counter to the natural
forward-order coding of sequentially occurring events (Gilbert
& Fisher, 2006; Kahana, 1996) and (b) it disrupts reconstruct-
ing events from a schema (Geiselman & Callot, 1990). In one
experiment, half of the liars and truth tellers were requested to
recall their stories in reverse order, whereas no instruction was
given to the other half of the participants (Vrij et al., 2008).
More cues to deceit emerged in this reverse-order condition
than in the control condition. More important is that observers
who watched these videotaped interviews could distinguish
between truths and lies better in the reverse-order condition
than in the control condition. In the control condition, only
42%of the lies were correctly classified, well below what is
found in a typical lie-detection experiment, suggesting that the
lie-detection task in this experiment was particularly difficult.
Yet, in the experimental condition, 60%of the lies were cor-
rectly classified, slightly more than what is typically found in
lie-detection research.
Another way to increase cognitive load is by instructing
interviewees to maintain eye contact with the interviewer
(Beattie, 1981). When people have to concentrate on telling
their stories, which is likely when they are requested to recall
Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection 109
what has happened, they are inclined to look every now and
then away from their conversation partner (typically to a
motionless point), because maintaining eye contact with the
conversation partner is distracting (Doherty-Sneddon, Bruce,
Bonner, Longbotham, & Doyle, 2002; Doherty-Sneddon &
Phelps, 2005; Glenberg, Schroeder, & Robertson, 1998). When
interviewees are instructed to maintain eye contact continu-
ously, their concentration on telling their stories is therefore
likely to be hampered, and, because lying is more mentally tax-
ing than truth telling, this should impair the storytelling of liars
more than the storytelling of truth tellers. In one experiment,
half of the liars and truth tellers were requested to maintain eye
contact with the interviewer continuously throughout the inter-
view, whereas no instruction was given to the other half of the
participants (Vrij, Mann, Leal, & Fisher, 2010). It was again
found that more cues to deceit emerged in the eye-contact con-
dition than in the control condition and that observers who
watched these videotaped interviews could discriminate
between truths and lies only in the eye-contact condition.
An experiment with children reveals a third type of addi-
tional request that can be made to increase a liar’s cognitive
load: asking event-irrelevant questions (Quas, Davis, Good-
man, & Myers, 2007). Children played individually with a male
confederate who touched each child twice on their stomach,
nose, and neck. In the subsequent interview, children were
asked to tell the truth or lie when asked questions about the
touching. They also were asked a series of questions about the
event that were unrelated to body touch and were asked to
answer those questions truthfully. The children who lied about
the body touch answered these unrelated questions less accu-
rately than did the children who told the truth about the body
touch. Quas et al. argued that remembering and rehearsing the
lie required cognitive resources and that by devoting their
resources to the lie, children had difficulty in conducting an
adequate memory search for other event details.
Future Research Directions
Although the nonverbal and verbal deception-detection litera-
ture is extensive, several important issues still remain to be
addressed. We acknowledge four issues that we believe are
fruitful and important avenues for future research. First,
although much research has aimed at discriminating between
truths and lies about past actions, virtually no research has been
conducted on distinguishing between truths and lies about
future actions (intentions). This is remarkable considering the
frequency and importance of situations calling for assessments
of whether a person is lying or truth telling about his or her
intentions (e.g., stated reasons for crossing a border, for exam-
ple). Consider the would-be 911 terrorists, smiling and chatting
politely with airport staff while perhaps covertly feeling intense
hatred and contempt toward their intended targets, as well as
fear of discovery and/or death. Is it possible to identify such
individuals by their behavior or responses to specific ques-
tions? The societal value of being able to detect planned but
not-yet-committed illegal actions (criminal intentions) is thus
obvious (Granhag, 2010).
Deception research about intentions has commenced with
the publication of three experimental studies (Granhag &
Knieps, in press; Vrij, Granhag, Mann, & Leal, in press; Vrij,
Leal, Mann, et al., in press). The pattern that emerges from
these experiments is that deceptive intentions are associated
with different cues to deceit than are deceptive descriptions
of past activities. For example, research on past activities has
shown that typically liars are less detailed than truth tellers
(DePaulo et al., 2003; Vrij, 2005, 2008a), whereas no differ-
ence in detail emerged in any of the deceptive-intention experi-
ments so far. One aspect that often makes truth tellers’ stories
about past activities more detailed than liars’ stories is that
there is a wealth of perceptual details that truth tellers have
experienced during these past activities that they can recall
(if they still remember them). In contrast, when discussing their
intentions about a forthcoming activity, truth tellers have not
yet experienced anything, and this restricts the amount of detail
in their recall of intentions.
Some differences between truthful and deceptive intentions
emerged. First, truthful intentions sounded more plausible than
did deceptive intentions (Vrij, Granhag, Mann, & Leal, in
press; Vrij, Leal, Mann, et al., in press), and truthful and decep-
tive intentions were associated with different mental images
(Granhag & Kniep, in press). Participants who told the truth
about their intentions agreed more frequently that planning
their future actions evoked mental images than did participants
who lied about their intentions. In addition, liars who claimed
to have activated a mental image during the planning phase
provided verbal descriptions of the most dominant mental
image that were less rich in detail than those of the truth tellers.
Those findings align with the concept of episodic future
thought. In brief, episodic future thought represents the ability
to mentally preexperience a one-time personal event that may
occur in the future (Schacter & Addis, 2007). People who make
up a plan for a future event that they intend to execute seem to
activate a more concrete (detailed) mental image of the upcom-
ing scenario than do those who adopt a plan that they do not
intend to execute (Watanabe, 2005).
A second line of research that needs greater attention is
work with real populations, such as actual suspects, and high-
stakes lies. In fact, only three studies of high-stakes lies with
actual suspects have been conducted (Mann et al., 2002; Vrij
& Mann, 2001a, 2001b). Porter and ten Brinke (2010) argue
that there may be qualitative and quantitative variations in the
behavioral manifestations of lies of minor consequence versus
those of major consequence. Although high-stakes lies may be
harder for liars to tell, their behavioral signs are neither obvious
(i.e., police perform just above chance when trying to identify
them; Vrij & Mann, 2001b) and may simply not be more
extreme than those of lower-stakes lies.
A third line of research that merits attention is lying by net-
works. Most deception research addresses individual truth tell-
ers and liars, but criminals often act in pairs or larger groups.
Research could focus on the development of interview tools
110 Vrij et al.
that can successfully discriminate between pairs of truth tellers
and pairs of liars. Probably the dominant interview strategy to
date is to interview each member of the group individually and
compare the answers they give. If the members give consistent
answers, they are considered truth tellers; if they give contra-
dicting answers, they are considered liars. This strategy is lim-
ited, because it appears to ignore the fact that liars tend to
prepare their alibis together, and therefore they are likely to
give the same answers when asked about these alibis. The strat-
egy works, however, if questions are asked that the liars have
not anticipated, because in that case they cannot give their pre-
pared answers (Vrij et al., 2009). Thus, examining contradic-
tions could work, but only with answers to unanticipated
questions. There is no evidence that professionals make this
crucial distinction between anticipated and unanticipated ques-
tions when they interview multiple suspects.
A fourth line of fruitful and important research is examining
the strategies used by truth tellers and liars when they are inter-
viewed. As we have argued here, effective lie-detection inter-
view techniques take advantage of the distinctive
psychological processes and requirements of truth tellers and
liars. To design such interview strategies, we need further
insight into truth tellers’ and liars’ strategies through research.
For example, research has shown that verbal cues are typically
more diagnostic cues to deceit than are nonverbal cues
(DePaulo et al., 2003; Vrij, 2008a, 2008b), and truth tellers’
and liars’ strategies can explain this. In one study, truth tellers
and liars were found to use different verbal strategies (Vrij,
Mann, Leal, & Granhag, 2010). Truth tellers were mainly con-
cerned with telling what had happened. In contrast, liars were
preparing their answers to possible questions. Liars further
decided not to give too much detail, because providing details
increases the chance of saying something that the interviewer
knows to be untrue. The result of these different verbal strate-
gies is that truth tellers’ stories are likely to be more detailed
than those of liars; research by DePaulo et al. (2003) and Vrij
(2008a) supports this idea. Although truth tellers and liars in
these studies did use different verbal strategies, they used the
same nonverbal strategies. Both truth tellers and liars believed
that signs of nervousness would appear suspicious. They there-
fore decided that they would try to suppress displaying signs of
nervousness during the interview. The fact that truth tellers and
liars employ different verbal strategies but the same nonverbal
strategies (a finding also obtained by Hartwig, Granhag, Stro¨m-
wall, & Doering, 2010) may explain, in part, why verbal cues to
deceit are often more diagnostic than are nonverbal cues to
We have presented an overview of pitfalls and opportunities in
nonverbal and verbal lie detection. We presented 16 pitfalls and
clustered them into three categories: (a) a lack of motivation to
detect lies, (b) difficulties associated with lie detection, and
(c) common errors made by lie detectors. We believe that the
most important point to take home is that nonverbal and verbal
cues to deception are ordinarily faint and unreliable. This
makes lie detection a difficult task, as there is no nonverbal
or verbal cue that lie detectors can truly rely upon.
We also discussed 11 guidelines to improve lie detection.
First, we presented 5 guidelines aimed at avoiding common
errors made in nonverbal and verbal lie detection. This has
been the focus of research for a considerable period of time.
We then discussed 6 guidelines aimed at creating more cues
and more blatant and reliable cues to deception by exploiting
truth tellers’ and liars’ distinctive psychological states. This has
been the focus of recent research. We believe that the success
of the traditional methods to improve lie detection is seriously
hampered by the fact that cues are typically faint and unreli-
able. The recently introduced methods attempt to tackle exactly
this problem, and, as we have demonstrated, are doing so with
success. We encourage lie detectors to become actively
engaged in exploiting truth tellers’ and liars’ different mental
processes. This should not be restricted to police–suspect inter-
views, the topic of investigation in many deception experi-
ments. It could equally be used in a variety of settings,
including an intelligence context for the identification and
apprehension of individuals with criminal intent. It may even
be used for detecting lies told in the courtroom. We encourage
researchers to focus their efforts on this line of innovative and
promising lie-detection research.
1. Not all probing questions facilitate lie detection. In many earlier
studies examining the effect of questioning, probes such as ‘‘I don’t
understand this, could you please explain this to me?’’ (neutral
probes); ‘‘I do believe you, but I don’t understand this. How is it
possible that...?’’ (positive probes); or ‘‘I don’t believe you, are you
trying to fool me?’’ (negative probes) were used. Intuitively, one
might think that such probes make truth detection and lie detection
easier: The liar is forced to continue to speak and give more infor-
mation; and the more liars speak and the more information they
give, the greater the possibility that they will make mistakes and
give their lies away, either via verbal cues (by contradicting them-
selves or by saying something which an observer knows is incor-
rect) or via nonverbal cues. However, several studies have shown
that these types of probing do not increase accuracy but tend to
lead to judging the other as being truthful (G.D. Bond, Malloy,
Thompson, Arias, & Nunn, 2004; Buller, Comstock, Aune, &
Strzyzewski, 1989; Buller, Strzyzewski, & Comstock, 1991; Levine
& McCornack, 2001; Stiff & Miller, 1986). This is called the prob-
ing heuristic (Levine, Park, & McCornack, 1999). The type of
probing (negative, neutral, or positive) is irrelevant; all types of
probing yield the same effect and benefit liars. In the ‘‘Exploitingthe
Different Mental Processes of Truth Tellers and Liars’’ section of
this review, we discuss successful probing questions.
2. Note that when people overwhelmingly say that liars avert their
gaze, it does not mean that they always rely on gaze aversion when
they attempt to detect deceit. For example, Vrij (1993) correlated
the behaviors displayed by the videotaped liars and truth tellers
(e.g., gaze behavior, smiling, different types of movements, stut-
ters) with the veracity judgments made by the police detectives
Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection 111
who observed these videotapes. The gaze patterns displayed by the
liars and truth tellers did not predict the police detectives’ veracity
judgments in this particular study, whereas smiling (people who
smiled less were perceived as more suspicious) and movements
(people who moved their arms and hands more were perceived
as more suspicious) did. In a meta-analysis of such studies, Hartwig
and Bond (2010) found a correlation of r¼.27 between averting
gaze and veracity judgements (people who avert their gaze are per-
ceived as more suspicious). Although this correlation was signifi-
cant, it was somewhat lower than some other correlations. The
cues that had the strongest relation with veracity judgments were
incompetence (r¼–.54) and ambivalence (r¼.51). People who
appear incompetent and/or ambivalent are judged as deceptive.
3. There are many interrogation manuals, and they are highly similar
to each other (Vrij & Granhag, 2007). We mainly focus on the
Inbau et al. (2001) manual, because this manual is commonly used
by police and military interrogators and hence is highly influential
(Gudjonsson, 2003).
4. Throughout the years, the Ekman group in particular has claimed
that individual differences in the ability to detect deceit exist. They
first reported that some groups of professionals (e.g., The Secret
Service) are better lie detectors than other groups (Ekman & O’Sul-
livan, 1991; Ekman, O’Sullivan, & Frank, 1999). Later they
reported that they had identified some individuals with extraordina-
rily good skills in lie detection, the so-called wizards (O’Sullivan &
Ekman, 2004). Charles F. Bond has challenged these findings,
arguing that individual differences are minute (Bond & DePaulo,
2008). Regarding the group differences, C.F. Bond (2008) noticed
that a draft manuscript from Ekman et al.’s 1999 article, circulated
in 1997, differed from the final 1999 article and that not all the
findings reported in the 1997 draft were included in the 1999 arti-
cle. Because the findings in 1999 were more in alignment with
Ekman et al.’s argument about the superiority of certain groups
in lie detection than the findings in the 1997 draft, C.F. Bond
(2008) suspected manipulation and believed that Ekman and col-
leagues avoided reporting the findings that went against their gen-
eral conclusion. Ekman, O’Sullivan, and Frank (2008) denied
manipulation. They reported that after 1997, they tested additional
groups of participants but that these new groups did not complete
all the lie-detection tests that the earlier groups had completed.
In their 1999 article, they only reported the results for the lie-
detection tests that were completed by all the groups. Regarding
their findings, Bond and Uysal (2007) reasoned that the number
of wizards that were identified was so low (15 out of 13,000 people
who were tested) that they could have emerged as wizards just by
chance. However, O’Sullivan (2007) argued that subsequent
follow-up testing has demonstrated that these wizards were true
wizards. More important for this article is whether wizards use
clearly identifiable strategies. If so, it would mean that others could
learn from them. The Ekman group has not published detailed data
about the strategies used by their wizards to date, but G.D. Bond
(2009) has. In his wizard project, G.D. Bond started with 234 lie
detectors and identified two wizards. Via eye-tracking equipment
he determined the locations the two wizards looked at when mak-
ing their veracity decisions. The two experts used different strate-
gies: One wizard looked more at the face area, whereas the other
looked more at the arm/torso area. In summary, if wizards exist,
it is so far unclear what makes them wizards. O’Sullivan and col-
leagues further claimed that truth and lie detection becomes
easier when there is more at stake for the truth tellers and liars
(O’Sullivan, 2008; O’Sullivan, Frank, Hurley, & Tiwana, in press).
This claim has been supported by experimental research (DePaulo,
Blank, Swaim, & Hairfield, 1992; DePaulo, Kirkendol, Tang, &
O’Brien, 1988; DePaulo, Lanier, & Davis, 1983; DePaulo, LeMay,
& Epstein, 1991; DePaulo, Stone, & Lassiter, 1985; Lane &
DePaulo, 1999; Vrij, 2000; Vrij, Harden, Terry, Edward, & Bull,
5. Many of these guidelines require interviewees to talk. We believe
that interviewees are generally willing to talk even in situations in
which such willingness may be less expected, such as in police
interviews. In their analysis of 1,067 audiotaped police interviews,
Moston, Stephenson, and Williamson (1993) found that only 5%of
suspects remained silent.
The authors are very grateful to Bella M. DePaulo for her constructive
comments on an earlier draft of this article.
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Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection 121
... , , and then represent the "execution costs" of lying, telling the truth, or not answering a solicitation, respectively. These execution costs (DePaulo & Kirkendol, 1989;Ekman, 2009;Sporer & Schwandt, 2006;Vrij et al., 2011;Zuckerman et al., 1981) can relate to cognitive (e.g., the fabrication of the lie itself), emotional (e.g., feeling guilty about lying), or control/inhibition (e.g., inhibiting body impulses related to lying in order to appear honest) costs. ...
... For example, Vrij et al. (2011) identified six reasons why lying could be more cognitively demanding than truth telling: (a) formulating a lie itself, (b) controlling one's behavior, which can itself be cognitively demanding, (c) monitoring interviewers' reactions to assess whether they are believing the lie, (d) reminding oneself to act and role play, (e) suppressing the truth while lying, and (f) activating a lie, which is more intentional and less automatic than the activation of the truth (note that we argue though that lying can also be less cognitively demanding than telling the truth in many cases, an argument we develop more in the Discussion section). For example, Van 't Veer et al. (2014) examined the role of an increase in the cognitive execution cost of lying as a deterrent to deception. ...
... Social white lies can also be well described with the Five Forces Model. The current prevailing research paradigm assumes that lying is more cognitively demanding than truthtelling, for several reasons (Vrij et al., 2011). While such statements might certainly be true for many real-life high-stakes lies, like criminal cases, it may not apply to more common everyday social white lies. ...
The General Theory of Deception (GTD) aims to unify and complete the various sparse theoretical units that have been proposed in the deception literature to date, in a comprehensive framework fully describing from end to end how and when deceptive messages are produced, and how this can inform more effective prevention and detection.As part of the elaboration of the theory, the different ways people elaborate deceptive messages were first tracked by the author daily, over 3 years, resulting in the identification, description, and naming of 98 “Elementary Deception Modes” (86 verbal, 12 nonverbal) that can all be combined during one deceptive episode, thus leading to a total estimate of 10^29 different ways to lie.Central to the GTD is the "Five Forces Model", explaining precisely at which times deceptive messages occur and what factors compete to determine the types of messages that are most likely to be produced (truthful, refusal to answer, or deceptive – and with which deception modes). Finally, the process by which deceptive messages come to mind and are compared, both against each other and against the option of disclosing the truth, given memory's capacity and time limits, has been described in the form of a dynamic, continuous, and testable algorithm called the “Deception Decision Algorithm” (DDA).The practical insights derived from this new disruptive theory of lie production are discussed and a theory-based lie prevention and detection enhancement method is introduced. Finally, three series of experiments were carried out to test certain predictions of the theory, in particular the impact of the manipulation of factors within the Five Forces Model on the prevention and enhancement of deception detection, experimentally confirming the main predictions for practical applications of the GTD theory.
... There are examples in other literatures. For instance, a common belief is that people show more signs of nervousness (e.g., gaze aversion, fidgeting) when lying compared with telling the truth, but this is not true; and the opposite might be true when liars actively inhibit signs of nervousness (Vrij et al., 2010). It is similarly challenging to draw inferences when people do 'not judge' a video outcome better than chance, because the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. ...
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Exposure to harsh or unpredictable environments can impair social and cognitive functioning. However, people may also develop enhanced abilities for solving challenges relevant in those environments (‘hidden talents’). In the current study, we explored the associations between people’s ability to accurately forecast conflict outcomes and their past and current experiences with violence. To do so, we used dynamic, real-world videos with known outcomes, rather than static, artificial stimuli (e.g., vignettes) with unknown outcomes, as previous research has done. We conducted a preregistered study in the Netherlands that included a final sample of 127 participants: 63 from a community sample and 64 college students. We found no support for our core hypothesis that people who experienced more violence are more accurate in forecasting conflict outcomes. Thus, we did not find support for hidden talents, contributing to an evidence base that was already mixed and inconclusive. We did find support for our auxiliary hypothesis that college students would wear ‘rose-colored glasses’, underestimating the number of conflicts that would escalate into fights. Contrary to our other two auxiliary hypotheses, the community sample did not overestimate the number of conflicts that would escalate into fights, and people who have experienced more violence were not more likely to predict that conflicts will escalate into fights. These findings have implications for the literature on hostile attribution bias, which shows that people with more exposure to violence more likely interpret the ambiguous actions of others as hostile. Whereas this pattern is often attributed to negativity bias in people with more exposure to violence, it might also reflect rose-colored glasses on people living safer lives.
... In the last component, Action, respondents share their impromptu or prepared lies with targets. Often they will try to control physical movements, appear relaxed, and make good eye contact (Ekman, 2001;Ekman & Frank, 1993;Vrij et al., 2010), but may self-regulate too much because of their inaccurate ToM beliefs regarding the actual cognitions and behavior of truth tellers. This uncreative, conventional approach to acting out a deception is partly based on the tendencies for liars to assume naively and incorrectly that truth tellers, even under high stakes, are relaxed and do not experience memory recall failures or other lapses (Bond & DePaulo, 2008;Butterworth, 1978;DePaulo & Kirkendol, 1989). ...
... In the last component, Action, respondents share their impromptu or prepared lies with targets. Often they will try to control physical movements, appear relaxed, and make good eye contact (Ekman, 2001;Ekman & Frank, 1993;Vrij et al., 2010), but may self-regulate too much because of their inaccurate ToM beliefs regarding the actual cognitions and behavior of truth tellers. This uncreative, conventional approach to acting out a deception is partly based on the tendencies for liars to assume naively and incorrectly that truth tellers, even under high stakes, are relaxed and do not experience memory recall failures or other lapses (Bond & DePaulo, 2008;Butterworth, 1978;DePaulo & Kirkendol, 1989). ...
The introductory chapter to Creativity and Morality outlines the relationship between the constructs, summarizing the AMORAL model of dark creativity (Kapoor & Kaufman, in press). Specifically, the Antecedents, Mechanisms (individual), Operants (environmental), Realization, Aftereffects, and Legacy of the creative action are theorized and described within the context of general and dark creativity. We present real-life and simulated examples to illustrate the application of the theory across multiple domains, from law enforcement to interpersonal relationships, from the initial idea to the impact of the eventual action. The AMORAL model will help introduce the main concepts that will be addressed in subsequent chapters.
... For a comprehensive review of challenges for computational approaches to deception detection from language, see Tomas et al. (2022). Moreover, for a review on general pitfalls and opportunities in verbal deception detection from a theoretical and psychological angle, see Vrij et al. (2010). ...
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People are regularly confronted with potentially deceptive statements (e.g., fake news, misleading product reviews, or lies about activities). Only few works on automated text-based deception detection have exploited the potential of deep learning approaches. A critique of deep-learning methods is their lack of interpretability, preventing us from understanding the underlying (linguistic) mechanisms involved in deception. However, recent advancements have made it possible to explain some aspects of such models. This paper proposes and evaluates six deep-learning models, including combinations of BERT (and RoBERTa), MultiHead Attention, co-attentions, and transformers. To understand how the models reach their decisions, we then examine the model's predictions with LIME. We then zoom in on vocabulary uniqueness and the correlation of LIWC categories with the outcome class (truthful vs deceptive). The findings suggest that our transformer-based models can enhance automated deception detection performances (+2.11% in accuracy) and show significant differences pertinent to the usage of LIWC features in truthful and deceptive statements.
In the Netherlands, as in many other countries, victims of intentionally committed violent crimes may apply for state compensation if the offender is unknown or unable to pay for the damages of the crime. This state compensation scheme is run by the Dutch Violent Offences Compensation Fund (VOCF). Lawyers who work for this fund need to evaluate applicants´ eligibility for state compensation on the basis of two criteria: (1) the plausibility of the applicant's victimization story and (2) the severity of the injury sustained by the applicant. Whether these criteria are fulfilled is largely left to the discretion of the lawyer who evaluates the application. This discretionary power makes the decision-making process prone to biased outcomes. Inspired by previous research, this study investigated whether information from mental health care providers, such as psychiatrists or clinical psychologists, serves as a potential source of bias. Although this type of information may or should sometimes be used to evaluate an applicant's eligibility for compensation, in most cases it should not affect the outcome of this evaluation because of its potential unreliability. A statistical association between availability of information from mental health care providers and adjudication of state compensation is therefore not to be expected. Analyzing 246 applications submitted to the Dutch VOCF between July 1st 2016 and July 1st 2017, this study tested the empirical validity of this expectation. Results indicated that the availability of information of mental health care providers was associated with adjudication of state compensation. This finding was discussed in view of the literature on heuristic thinking and biased decision making and the study's limitations.