Interrogation Techniques: Part Two Non-Verbal Cues

In Interrogation Techniques part one, I discussed verbal cues and how to use them to detect lies from a perpetrator. Although verbal cues can lead to a confession, many suspects are able to lie as easy as breathing. Through conscious thought and repetition, these types of suspects can often get away with lies and deception, even to a trained observer.

However, non-verbal cues are much harder to fake. The use of facial expressions, hand gestures or overall body language is much more difficult to control, if not impossible. For those of you who are parents, you’re very good in catching your children in lies. Sometimes by the way they say something, but more often by their non-verbal cues. Here are some common non-verbal cues used by liars.

Arms and/or legs crossed.

Slouched in chair

Head down when responding to questions

Looking away when answering questions

Won’t make eye contact when they are telling a lie

Jerky movements (fidgeting) when answering certain questions

Appear to have difficulty getting comfortable in the chair

Body movements will appear clumsy or awkward

Increased blinking

Liars may also tend to “freeze up” and reduce movement

Rubbing palms on pants.

Pretend to remove dust from their clothes. This is a common stalling tactic

Now that you have some examples to choose from, I’d like to give you a test run as a human lie detector.  

You bring in John Smith, whom you suspect of murder. You and your potential suspect are sitting across from each other in the interrogation room. He’s been read his Miranda Rights and hasn’t asked for a lawyer. Let’s get started.

Detective: “Thank you for coming in. I appreciate your help.”

John Smith: Shrugs. “Not sure I can, but I’ll try.”

Detective: “Before we get started, can you tell me your name, date of birth and home address.”

John Smith: Looks detective in the eyes. “John Smith. Born July 10,1981. I currently reside at 21 Jump Street.”

Detective: “Thank you. Can you tell me where you were this past Friday, between 10:00 pm and 2:30 am?”

John Smith: Looks away. “Home. In bed. Had to get up early for work.”

Detective: “Can anyone verify this?”

John Smith: “I don’t know? I live alone.”

Detective: “That’s okay. It’s just a question.”

John Smith: Nods but says nothing.

Detective: Do you know a woman by the name of Sally Parker?”

John Smith: “Does anyone really know anyone?”

I want to stop the interrogation here to see if you can identify if the John Smith is lying due to non-verbal cues? Although he looks away when responding to the detective about being at home in bed on Friday between 10:00 pm and 2:30 am, this is not enough to say he’s lying. But I must admit, I gave you a no-win situation to show how easy it is to make a conclusion based on one non-verbal cue to detect a lie. And that’s if you took the bait. His last answer, “Does anyone really know anyone?” is more of a sign of deception, but it still isn’t enough to prove a lie. The shrug at the beginning of the interrogation was just a shrug. I used this as a false positive to try and throw you off.

The number one mistake in reading body language is reading a false positive. This means the detective sees one non-verbal cue and interprets this as a lie. As a detective, we are trained to look for multiple cues called clusters. One of the easiest ways to do this is by asking questions you already know the answer to, such as when the detective asked Smith his name, date of birth and home address. Most people are going to be truthful. Truth produces a baseline for the detective to see normal responses to questions asked. Let’s start over. This time I’ll play fair.

Detective: “Thank you for coming in. I appreciate your help.”

John Smith: Shrugs. “Not sure I can, but I’ll try.”

Detective: “Before we get started, can you tell me your name, date of birth and home address.”

John Smith: Looks detective in the eyes. “John Smith. Born July 10,1981. I currently reside at 21 Jump Street.”

Detective: “Thank you. Can you tell me where you were this past Friday, between 10 pm and 2 am?”

John Smith: Looks away. “Home. In bed. Had to get up early for work.”

Detective: “Can anyone verify this?”

John Smith: “I don’t know? I live alone.”

Detective: “That’s okay. It’s just a question.”

John Smith: Nods but says nothing.

Detective: Do you know a woman by the name of Sally Parker?”

John Smith: “Does anyone really know anyone?”

Detective: “So that’s a no?”

John Smith: Smiles. “I’m just messing with you, man.” Rubs palms on pants. “I do not know anyone by that name.”

Detective: “You ever been to a bar called Stone Cold?”

John Smith: Looks away. “Have I ever been to Stone Cold? Name does not ring a bell.”

Detective: “So that’s a no?”

John Smith: Smiles. “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

Detective: Returns smile. “We have a witness who places you at Stone Cold this past Friday.”

John Smith: Snaps fingers. “Wait. That the bar off Military Highway?”

Detective: “Yes.”

John Smith: “My bad. I was there last Friday. Never knew the name of the bar though.”

Detective: Nods. “That’s understandable. Thing is the bartender, and several witnesses say you talked with Sally Parker.”

John Smith: “Oh wait, I remember her now. She was the woman at the bar sitting next to me. I bought her a few drinks.”

Detective: “What did you two talk about?”

John Smith: “This and that.”

Detective: “How long you two chat for?”

John Smith: Glances away. “Not sure. I mostly watched the game on the television.”

Detective: “What game?”

John Smith: “Don’t remember.”

Detective: “Did you two leave together?”

John Smith: Shifts in his seat. “No.”

Detective: Leans forward. “Thing is, I already know you’re lying. Those same witnesses saw you two leave together. So why don’t you come clean. Clear your conscience and tell the truth. You killed her. Didn’t you?”

John Smith: Sinks in the chair. “I did but it was not my fault. It was an accident. I swear.”

Did you pick up any of the non-verbal cues? There were many. I know the confession was quick, but my goal here was to show different non-verbal cues. Did you notice the verbal cues I tossed in? I sprinkled a few to see if you picked up on any of them.

I hope this has been helpful for you. In the next segment I’ll use an interrogation from one of my fiction novels to help further illustrate verbal and non-verbal cues.

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