Psychological Tool in deception detection- “Illusion of Transparency”

As a Psych/Criminal Justice major, I have relied heavily upon psychological understanding to detect deception.  In this post, I am going to outline how what social psychologists call the “illusion of Transparency” and how it can be used in deception detection

For most people, telling a lie is stressful, at least to varying degrees.  Lies take on many forms, but there are two main ways to lie to someone.  Direct and indirect. The direct lie, also known as the lie of commission  are when the lie is in direct contradiction to the truth.  Bill Clinton’s famous “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinski.” is an example.  The second major type of lie is the indirect lie, or lie of omission.  This occurs when information, relevant to the facts are left out. In “Star Wars” Ben (Obi wan Kenobi) told Luke his father was dead.  When Luke found out Darth Vader was actually his father he confronted Ben.  Ben’s reply? “The good man that was your father had ceased to exist, so what I said was true, from a certain point of view.”


The indirect lie?  Ben told Luke his father was dead, but he wasn’t.  Indirect lies are the most common and the easiest to tell, since they do not require invention and therefore less mental stress is created.

If you are conducting an interrogation (the attempt to get a confession based on strong factual evidence) you may need to force the suspect to tell you a direct lie. You can simply ask,  “Did you do it?”.  If they say yes, great!  Investigation over.  If they say no, when in fact they did, now you have forced them into a difficult psychological situation.  (As an aside, there are many times I do not allow the suspect to make a verbal denial in order to avoid psychological entrenchment, but that is a situation for another post).

Now that we have a direct lie to deal with, the suspect will have increased anxiety, higher cognitive load and will suffer from the topic of this post, The Illusion of Transparency.

The Illusion of Transparency is a tendency to overestimate what another person knows about your current mental state.  In deception detection, this means the subject often feels as if his interrogator can “see right through” him.  Knowing this, the investigator capitalize by increasing the suspect’s anxiety levels, causing them to worry.  Higher anxiety levels will lead to stronger body language indicators.  The suspect will also be more eager to end the interview- hopefully with a confession.


The primary tactic to use in order to benefit from the Illusion of Transparency is to confirm what they suspect- Tell the subject that you can see right through their lies.  There are several ways to phrase this, and that is up to the investigator depending on the situation.  Confirming the suspect’s fears will help him realize his position is untenable and surrender will come shortly afterwards.

An important thing to keep in mind, is that this tactic works best after the suspect has told a direct lie.  It is also important that you have facts supporting your position.  Deception detection is a very popular topic and there are a lot of pseudo experts out there.  It is vital that you do not jump to conclusions.  Interrogations are different from interviews- interviews are geared toward information gathering, interrogations are for obtaining confessions and come after the information has already been gathered.  Never jump to conclusions!


One thought on “Psychological Tool in deception detection- “Illusion of Transparency”

  1. Pingback: Lies by Omission? (Female; Age 14; New Jersey) - Inspire ConversationInspire Conversation … Inspire Thought … Inspire Stronger Relationships with Your Teens … & Inspire Yourself!

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