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Interviewing -What’s Body Language Got To Do With It?

Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

Humans are capable of communicating over four channels – voice quality, voice content, micro signals and body language.  Each of the four broadcasts cognitive and emotional information in varying strengths and forms. Because communication skills, talents and habits for each person vary, the overall contributing percentages of each can be different.  Of the four channels, body language provides the most output making up anywhere from 50 to 85 percent depending on the person or even which expert you may ask. The question is what’s all the body language about and what does it mean to the interviewer?


First of all body language can obviously contribute to a verbal message that is being broadcast.  Often we judge a person’s level of communication skills based not only on their verbal talents but also on the artistic flair of the person’s body language.  This subclass of nonverbal behavior includes what are called illustrators. These are motions, gestures, movements and in some cases facial expressions that support or supplement the verbal message.


Second, body language cues are also often directly connected with extreme emotional and sometimes cognitive stress changes a person may be experiencing.  It’s important to note these behaviors are not a part of the stress reactions but are the after shocks of developing or increasing stress.  Think of these cues as being similar to a tsunami.  The tsunami occurs because of dramatic unseen seismic events that occur under the ocean. Body language stress cues occur because of unseen seismic stress events occurring internal in your interview subject.


Finally, the interviewer may observe body language symptoms that have a higher correlation with deception.  There are two very prominent categories of these cues most frequently seen during deception – aversion and negation.  These cues are not part of the lie but occur because an emotional or cognitive lie has been told. In this case the person is attempting to deceive the observer by hiding a strong emotion they are experiencing or faking an emotion they do not genuinely feel.  These symptoms can also be associated with stress subject may experience when attempting to withhold information they do not want to expose or pronouncing to have knowledge they do not possess.  In either case your subject has a great deal at stake in sustaining the deception that can create varying degrees of stress.


It’s important for the interviewer to remember that not all changes in body language indicate deception but can be nothing more than a sign of changing emotion.  In addition, body language is the one channel that is often subject to misinterpretation.  One body language cue can have multiple meanings and are therefore subject to misinterpretation.  We should also note that diagnosing every single body language a person may generate in an interview is very labor intensive and concentrating all our efforts of nonverbal cues can result in the observer missing a significant verbal message.

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False Confession: Who’s Responsible?

Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

Recently I was comparing “notes” with a social psychologist who is conducting research on cues to deception.  She has been collecting data about the lie cues taught by the numerous interview and interrogation courses and attempting to validate the reliability of those cues.  She shared with me a comment made by an instructor in one of these courses that not only did she find disturbing but that I find at least professionally if not ethically appalling.  A question was raised in class about the issue of false confessions and how they should be handled.  The instructor informed the participants that the interviewer should blame the subject for the false confession.


With the country’s legal system current focus on wrongful convictions and false confessions, how irresponsible could a professional investigator be to blame a false confession on the suspect?  The objective of the investigative interviewer should be finding the truth by accurately spotting deception and ultimately obtaining a legal and ethical admission or confession.  Such professionals should also be keenly aware of what methods and techniques could induce a highly suggestible subject to make a false confession.


One issue that immediately concerns me about the instructor’s statement is there must be some problem with the human behavior cues that are being taught in this course.  We are expected to spot a subject’s apparent deception regarding their involvement in some inappropriate or criminal act by observing and identifying specific verbal and nonverbal cues of deception. If the cues being taught are reliable discriminators of deception, then why would the interviewer not be able to spot the very same signs that would undoubtedly be generated by a subject who is falsely confessing?


The objective of any investigation is to uncover the real story. Doesn’t the fact that there has been a false confession run completely counter to that objective? The fact that the investigator has become focused on this subject as being the person responsible for the commission of the crime leads one to believe that there may in fact have been a faulty or inadequate investigative effort which would include the identification, collection and preservation of evidence and more importantly the interviews of other sources, victims and witnesses. Once again, how has the interviewer missed the cues of omission and embellishment by the victims, witnesses or informants that I assume have already been interviewed during the investigation.


A couple of months ago I wrote an article for this newsletter that was entitled ‘Pre-Conception: An Interrogation Assassin’.  My premise in that article was one of if not the most insidious states of mind that an interviewer could have any pre-conception about a persons credibility and honesty about an issue.  With an inaccurate assessment of the subject’s honesty and relying on signs of deception that have been proven to be unreliable and then proceeding without considering that their technique may increase the chances of a false confession is the path to disaster.


If the investigator is prepared to take the credit for solving a case and wants the credit for getting a confession from a subject then he or she is also are responsible for a false confession.  Blaming the subject for their false confessions is an absolutely unacceptable excuse.  Our job is to find the truth.  A false confession does not serve justice.