Tag Archives: behavioral analysis

Why do some people lie for another?

Would you lie for someone else? You probably would under the right circumstances. Like all decisions, the choice to lie whether it is about something you did or something someone else did, is a risk versus reward decision. There are many circumstances in which the choice to lie is completely valid.

But what about those incidents when someone lies for another person without any readily apparent reason? What about the risk and no visible reward? According to Fincham and Jaspars’ 1979 study, there is a strong tendency to punish people for the intentions behind wrongdoing (such as lying) instead of the actual offense in cases in which they aren’t the same. This is consistent with what is known as the attribution theory. This would also indicate why someone may lie for another.

If your best friend were in big trouble because he stole a soda and got caught, would you back up his bogus story that he “thought” he paid for it, or “found” it or whatever excuse he could come up with? Depending on your level of friendship, you just might. After all, it is expected that even if your ruse does not work, you will not get in any trouble because what you intended might be perceived as some as inherently noble- you were just doing the “loyal” thing. With this in mind, you never really faced any true risk in this risk versus reward situation. The reward was helping your friend, and maybe even feeling good about doing a “noble” task. The risk was virtually zero. Consistent with Fincham and Jaspars’ research, you will most likely be judged on your intentions- helping a friend- instead of the lie you told. This is a powerful factor.

But what about more serious offenses, like robbery or even murder? The same forces are still at play, but the expectation of reprieve for the person who is lying for his robbing or murdering friend should diminish. His aura of nobility will erode in the eyes of the accuser, but his actions still may be plausible- “I wanted to be a good friend”. To be clear, it is very doubtful that if the two conspirators were simply acquaintances, the second person will very unlikely lie for the first. The stronger the bond between the two, the more likely they are to lie for each other.

There is another factor to be considered as well. Immediacy. The human mind has a tendency to create its own reality and has only a casual relationship with logic. Research has shown that most people (80%) will accept a $5 gift today over a $10 gift 30 days after the offer. The closer the situation is to the now, the more power it exerts over you. A friend that needs your help now, legitimate or not, will have more weight on your decision than the possible punishment that may occur some time in the future. The punishment is not even certain, the friend in need, however, is. These are strong social and psychological influences that not everybody can overcome.

A third factor is transferred responsibility. Lying for another is often a decision made without believing that we have truly done anything wrong. When our friend desperately begs us to lie for them, we can lie for them without truly bearing the responsibility for the act. This eliminates much of the guilt problem. Once the gig is up and we have been busted, the truth again becomes our friend and we can confess and be expected to be forgiven to some degree. You see this with kids quite often. Little Suzy lied for Little Johnny and when caught, Suzy proclaims “He made me do it!”. Suzy never felt she was truly doing anything wrong, and had an out if she got caught.

It is important to keep in mind factors that alter the decision making process. As previously mentioned, if the friendship is weak, the likelihood of getting someone to lie for you diminishes. Also, if the offense is morally apprehensible, such as rape or child molestation, it is highly unlikely that a morally normal associate will help, no matter the friendship. The risk clearly outweighs the reward and the decision is equally clear.

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Simple strategies to ferret out deception

In this article I am going to address some possible scenarios that can occur at work in which you would like to know if a coworker, employee or boss is a friend or enemy.  Since we can’t go around accusing others at work of being liars or thieves without substantial evidence, it is important that we take a look at alternatives to give us a higher statistical probability of avoiding the pitfall of believing a liar. I will take a look at three possible scenarios that can occur and outline a simple strategy to help get to the truth.

Let’s say, for example, you suspect your coworker of being a snake in the grass.  You would like to know if he is in it for the team, or if he is out to submarine you.  A tactic you can use is to ask him for his advice on an important assignment you have been given.  Tell him you are considering a strategy that you secretly know is a horrible idea, and he should know it is a horrible idea as well.  If he agrees with your doomed strategy, knowing full well it is a bad idea, then he is not in it for the team.  He is allowing you to proceed and fail without regard for how it affects the team, instead opting to further his own agenda. Now you know you cannot trust him going forward.  The psychological principle in play here is motivation.  People will rarely pass up an opportunity to further their plan.

In another scenario, let’s say you are the owner of a small business.  As with most small businesses, you are on a tight budget and have limited resources.  You suspect one of your few employees of stealing from the register.  In order to find out if your suspicions have merit, you can use the following approach.  Address the topic with the employee directly without accusing her and see what happens immediately after you bring the topic of theft up.  Start with something like “You know, I can’t believe some people think they can steal from their boss and not get caught.”  Now look for signs of agreement or discomfort. This is a powerful tool that reveals a suspect’s motivation.  If she is guilty, she will naturally assume you are accusing her.  If she is innocent, she will agree and further the discussion. The important point is to look for defensiveness and decline in comfort and confidence.  This will give you a strong indication of your employee’s level of guilt. The psychological principle in play here is guilt. Guilty people have a tendency to fall prey to a psychological phenomenon known as the “illusion of transparency”.  Once accused, the guilty will fear that the accuser can see through the lies and know her current state of mind.

In a third scenario, you suspect your mailroom manager of being involved in a lapping scheme, which is a common form of skimming. (It is undertaken by mail room employees who are responsible for receiving payments.  They skim the checks received, depositing the checks into their personal accounts and falsify company account records in order to cover the theft.) Since, he is the manager he has a good knowledge of the workings of the mail room.  He understands the process.  The strategy you can employ is to ask him for his advice.  State “You are the mailroom manager.  You know this operation better than anyone.  If you were to steal from the company, how would you go about it?”  Now he can take the bait.  If he is innocent, he will most likely tell you the easiest plan, the plan most likely to succeed.  In this case, the lapping scheme.  If he is guilty, he will want to draw attention away from his lapping scheme and might come up with a more complex, convoluted response or one that will not involve lapping schemes at all.  He does not want you to look at that possibility.  The clue that he might be guilty will come in the form that he does not give you the obvious answer but instead opts to redirect your thought process away from the crime that he is committing.  Of course, if you do not know where the weakness lies within the mailroom, you should educate yourself before questioning the manager, otherwise you will not know if he is giving you the appropriate response or not. The psychological principle in play here is fear.  The manager fears being discovered as a thief. When we are threatened by something, we fear it.  Whether we like it or not, we have a strong tendency to distance ourselves from anything that is threatening.  Being exposed as a thief is very threatening, as is the prospect of being fired or even arrested.  The manager must protect himself and not allow you to know what he has done.

Keep in mind, that none of these strategies are fool proof.  There are no guarantees, but they can help you by increasing your odds of success.  Beware aware of which psychological principles are relevant, as this will help you choose a strategy that allows you to find the truth.  To be sure, many psychological principles or emotions will be present, but there will be one primary emotion that forces the individual to act in a particular manner.  Knowing which emotion is in play is important information in helping you strategize.  I recommend you read Dr. David Leiberman’s book, “You Can Read Anyone”.  Dr. Leiberman outlines several psychological principles and strategies in this highly effective book.

Also, for a great resource on Body Language and Deception, check out http://www.bodylanguagelearning.org.uk/.  It is full of articles by respected and accomplished experts in the field.

Want to catch a liar? Look for the truth.

It is very easy to get caught up in trying to spot a liar by looking for clues to deception.  That just makes sense.  While there are hundreds of possible cues to deception, many of which I have addressed on this blog, the best strategy to consistently catch a liar is to look for the opposite- the truth.

Indicators of truthfulness are easier to spot than indicators of deception.  The key is to understand when there is an obvious lack of truthful indicators.  This is when you will see all those signs of deception.  In this article, I will point out some strategies to observe honesty.  Only in the absence of truth, will lies be revealed!

1. Smooth gestures.  This one is a favorite of mine.  When someone is talking or explaining something, the accompanying gestures, known in body language circles as “illustrators” are smooth and well timed.  Their intensity matches the spoken word. A well timed gesture usually begins right before the spoken word.  If there is a delay after the spoken word and then the gesture comes, the timing is off.  The emotion might not be genuine.  If gestures are mechanical and stiff, they are more than likely manufactured and not genuine.

2. The expression.  I have seen this one in high stakes situations.  While accusing a liar, the liar will often be expressionless.  His mind is on how he will respond.  The accusations do not offend him, because they are true (and he likely has already rationalized and justified his deception).  An innocent person, however, will show emotion at the onset of the accusation.  Real emotion.  I had to terminate an employee for his involvement with selling illegal drugs.  As I explained the undeniable evidence against him, he stood there emotionless.  He offered weak denials.  Most people would be outraged at losing a job for something they didn’t do, much less being falsely accused of being a drug dealer!  I was sure of the evidence prior to the discussion, but I still wanted to be thorough. Later in the discussion, I accused him of something I knew he didn’t do- theft.  He became irate and extremely agitated.  The difference was significant.  He didn’t steal and that prompted a true, emotional and strong denial.  The accusation of selling drugs did not.  Game. Set. Match.

3. FPPTSD.  First person, past tense, singular denial.   This one is a good indicator of honesty.  Deny the conclusion, deny the charge.

“They haven’t arrested me because they don’t have any evidence and they never will because I did not do it.”

-Richard Jewell, falsely accused Olympic bomber

I once investigated a theft case where an employee was accused of stealing expensive electronics.  He reportedly had taken a flat screen TV home.  When I asked him about the television, he stated “we got rid of it, it didn’t work”. Everything up to that point in his story had been “I”.  There was no “we”.  When it came to his denial, it wasn’t singular. This was his way of sharing blame.  Listen to any politician.  When his administration does something good, you will hear a lot of “I” and “Me”.  When things go bad, listen for “We”, and “Us”.

A truthful denial will look or sound something like:  “I didn’t do it” or “I didn’t steal the purse.”  The denials are direct.  The further away from this the denial gets, the more it needs to be scrutinized.

I will discuss more indicators of truth, but these are a good place to start. For an outstanding resource on body language and deception detection, visit http://www.bodylanguagelearning.org.uk/  this site has articles from some highly respected experts in the non-verbal field. Check it out!

Understanding context in body language

Body language cues are, in concept, the same as single words.  Alone, they can mean a number of things.  For example, crossed arms, can mean a person is cold, feeling unreceptive, low confidence or threatened.  What will clarify the meaning of the crossed arms is the cluster of accompanying gestures.  Much like the single word needs other words to help relay meaning.  Think of the word “cool”.  It can mean hip, describe a breeze, or a way of indicating things are ok (it’s cool, man).  Putting the words together form a sentence, a complete thought.  Look for the body language cues to form clusters, or sentences of their own for the most likely meaning of any single indicator.

Take a look at the following photos of people with their hands behind their heads.  They all have obviously different meanings, based on the context.

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Blake_Griffin_hands_behind_his_head_in_disbelief

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Businessman sitting in chair, hands behind head, smiling, portrait, cut out

In each of these photos, the arm gestures are the same but convey different meanings. The main thing to understand is that the meaning of each is supported by other indicators.  This allows us to make sense of the gesture.

“Well… I am about to lie to you”

Well.  This single word can be a powerful indicator.  Whatever comes next is not always going to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  So help you God.

Not this kind of well.

Not this kind of well.

The use of “well” is a verbal pause.  It gives the speaker time to formulate his response.  It is an easy to spot indicator that the speaker may intend to hedge, which means he will not be forthright. “Well” is especially alarming in response to a yes/no question or closed question. For example:

Q: Lacy’s wallet is missing from her purse.  She left it in the break room earlier. Do you know anything about it?

A: Well, what time was it taken?

This is alarming.  As always, context is the key!  The speaker is often equivocating, which is dishonest. When speaking truthfully, we generally don’t need to formulate a response, as the truth is usually right there, ready to go.  Creating this “gap” in conversation is also known as “response latency”.  Researchers have studied nonverbal aspects of linguistic behavior and found many cues can be sensitive cues of discrepancy.  Fluency, dominance, formality cues, time spent talking, response latency and other cues are reliable in helping to differentiate true from false statements (Buller et al,1994).

Keep in mind, the most common type of lie is the lie of omission.  This is when you don’t tell a direct lie, but instead choose to leave particular information out, which helps you manipulate the perception of the listener.

Also, it is very common to follow the “well” with a redirect.  Question the questioner.

“Well, what would you do?”

“Well, it’s not like you haven’t made mistakes.”

And so on..

Quite often these redirects will come in lieu of a direct answer to the question you asked.  When this happens it is a strong indicator the topic is extremely sensitive.  People release information in order of least sensitive to most sensitive.  They will often be very reluctant to give up the last piece of information.  Why?  It’s simple.  They are trying to construct and maintain a false reality.  The last, most sensitive lie, is the one that brings that reality crashing down.

One of the main motivations of many liars, is to make themselves look better.  That is a tough reality to let go- to let another person see you for who you really are.  Sprinkle in the added humiliation of becoming a known liar and there you have it- a strong reason to keep the lie alive as long as possible.

Listen for the word, “well” in response to a question that requires a clear yes or no.  You will often find the information that follows is either outright false, or incomplete. Either way, ask yourself “what are they hiding?”

It is important to note, that many times a person will pause to shape an honest answer as well.  Again, context is the key.  The main thing to understand about the use of the word “well” is that what comes next is important to listen to.  Response latency, as earlier mentioned, has a high correlation with false statements (McDaniel & Timm, 1990).  This should lead you to pay close attention to the response and evaluate further to determine if you are dealing with an honest person.