Four nonverbal behaviors that point to deception
For some of us, it’s like the Holy Grail. Is it truly possible there is an accurate way to detect deception? Apparently so. Maybe. New research points to a path to distrust that leads to identifying deception. You may want to take some notes. Or leave a trail of breadcrumbs…
We found this study on Wray Herbert’s blog (one of our favorites) and were immediately intrigued. Without further delay, here are the four nonverbal behaviors, which, when combined, lead others to feel distrust and consequently to presume deception:
But wait, you say! These have been debunked as accurate indicators of deception. And you would be correct. So let’s take a look at the research itself to see what they did and what it could mean. There are two studies–one with two phases and then a second study using a robot named Nexi.
In the first study, they videotaped pairs of students who were instructed to chat with each other for 5 minutes. Another set of students also chatted with a partner but over the internet using text (where they had no visual cues and were banned from using emoticons). Next, the in-person dyads and the internet dyads played a game measuring cooperation and “self-interested economic behavior”. As predicted by the researchers, the in-person dyads were more able to predict the trustworthiness of their partner.
As the researchers explored why this was, they found there were multiple potentially meaningful non-verbal cues: smiling, laughing, leaning, crossing the arms, looking away, touching, and head shaking or nodding. However, when four particular cues were present (e.g., hand touching, face touching, crossing arms and leaning away) the less trustworthy the partner was in the financial transaction inherent in the game. And their partners predicted it.
But why? Enter Nexi, the robot. The researchers used Nexi to obtain total control over these four cues. They had research participants “chat with Nexi” while the researchers made her go through the four cues (hand touching, face touching, crossing arms, and leaning away) repeatedly and, of course, as naturally as a robot can do these sorts of things. And voila! As Nexi exhibited this cluster of behaviors, the research participants reported they felt distrust toward the friendly robot.
So what does this all mean? We’re not sure if it says more about the speaker or the listener (or the robot, as the case may be). But what is important is that this is what people believe (and it seems to have some level of accuracy). Our mock jurors often focus in on non-verbal behavior found to not predict deception in the research but that make a difference to them in terms of trustworthiness. And that’s what matters. Not whether this cluster of behaviors really is indicative of deception but that when these behaviors are combined, it results in distrust.
In an environment like a trial, where credibility and trustworthiness mark the difference between winning and losing, this research is worth keeping in mind. If this cluster of common (and often innocent) unconscious behaviors by a robot can turn people off, just think what your witness could do. When you prepare witnesses for deposition and courtroom testimony, pay attention to the four lightning rods for distrust: hand touching/face touching/crossing arms/leaning away. The last two are probably already things you watch for since they communicate defensiveness but pay attention to the first two as well.