I just returned from an Inner Circle of Advocates meeting in Aspen where Dr. Charles A. Morgan MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale gave a talk about deception detection. He has a wide background of experience in this area. I learned that time honoured methods for determining the truth, including the lie detector are not reliable.
The whole subject of truthfulness is part of mankind’s history The Bible tells us Pontius Pilot asked Jesus a question which philosophers have debated for centuries: “What is truth?” Jesus gave no direct answer to his question leaving us to ask the same question. Who judges what is true and how to you evaluate “truth” of the speaker? We cannot entirely rely upon our own judgment either. It’s not like Justice Potter Stewart’s statement about pornography that it was hard to define but “I know it when I see it.” It turns out we often don’t know it even when it is a lie.
So, do I have the answer from Dr. Morgan? Sorry, I don’t. But, here are thoughts I thought interesting. He points out there are lies of omission and lies of fabrication plus a combination of both. Research has indicated that the generally accepted ideas about determining when someone is lying are not valid. Monitoring things like blinking eyes, body language and other standard tests have been proven no better than guessing. But, what research shows is a more accurate method for determining deception is the amount of mental effort required to tell the story. The volume of words used is significant, but the words must be unique and not just a repeatition of words.
Software has been developed that analizes these factors which has been shown to be rather accurate. The greater the volume of detail, the more the use new words used, the more likely the information was accurate. So asking a client or witness: “Tell me everything you remember even if it is unimportant” is a good starting point. Asking for more detail, such as what was seen, what was heard and what was felt are all good ways to test the accuracy and truthfulness of what is being said. Another interesting suggestion was that after doing this one can ask the person to start at the end and go backwards describing what they remember as a further test of this aspect of evaluating the story.
I wish I had a portable test like the police use for DUI detection to offer you, but I’m afraid we are left to our own experience and skills. What is clear from Dr. Morgan and the research done is that even the most highly trained and experienced interrogators left to their training and experience do not have a great track record in determining the question of truthfulness. I also learned there is a lot of information and research on this subject for our further education.