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.


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