Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Fine Art of Lying

by Teri Terry
The very lovely Dr Elisabeth Carter
Dr Elisabeth Carter has a BA in psycholinguistics, a Masters in criminology, and a PhD in sociology. WOW. Her recent book Analysing Police Interviews: Laughter, Confession and the Tape won the British Society of Criminology's Criminology book prize 2012. 

Last Thursday I went to a Chiltern Writers talk by Elisabeth Carter which was touted as being a must for all crime writers. At the time I confess I was kind of wondering why I was going: there are no police interviews coming up in the Book Which Must Be Finished, time is tight, and the list of Must Be Done Soon is getting ever longer, seemingly by the minute.

I thought the talk was going to be of specific interest to crime writers and not have general application, but I was wrong. Isn't it interesting how sometimes, as if the muse is looking out for you, it seems to send you something when you need it? I've been struggling lately with writing scenes where one character needs to extract information from another, but the latter has things to hide.

Elisabeth's research used forensic linguistics - analysing transcripts of police interviews - to analyse how confessions are elicited, and indicators of deception.


The book! Academic works are kind of expensive
 but I noticed the Kindle version is much more reasonable
The Rules of Conversation:
Did you know there are rules of conversation? Things like when somebody asks you a question, answering it within a reasonable space of time. You can try this out: next time somebody asks you something, look back at them without answering. See how long it is before they get uncomfortable, and jump in with why they think you aren't answering, or to retract the question. Rules of conversation are followed in all interactions, even police interviews, and deviations may indicate deception.

How can you tell is someone is lying? 
There are three main indicators of deception, all of which operate either cognitively or morally to make it easier to lie, and breach the rules of conversation:
1. Pauses: there is a higher cognitive demand to tell a lie than the truth. Even a half second pause often means what follows is a lie
2. Immaterial responses: such as only answering part of a question, or focusing on an irrelevant aspect of the question.
3. Upgraded responses: something outside the norm in the interaction, such as increasing in pitch, or reducing volume.

Confessions:
Unlike on telly, confessions in police interviews are rare. The key to obtaining confessions is establishing rapport, and there are two ways that have been identified to extract one:
1.Knowledge claims that make it hard to continue a line of deception: such as contrary evidence, or a witness. Knowledge claims can be explicit or implicit.
2Minimisation: either making what the person has done not seem so bad, or minimising the consequences.

I learned a few others things as well: I'm an absolutely rubbish photographer. And it is really hard to take notes on your phone when you forget to actually take anything useful, like a bit of paper, or even a pen. 

Now I'm off to tackle those scenes....let's see if my character can work out when somebody is lying.

17 comments :

  1. Very interesting. As a criminal defence solicitor I would say that admissions of guilt (confessions)mainly occur due to the strength of evidence gathered by investigators. There are also many occasions where investigators are on a bit of a 'fishing trip'.

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    1. I think gathered evidence eliciting confessions fits into Elisabeth's category of knowledge claims that challenge a line of deception? She did stress confessions were rare.

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    2. It would be interesting to go along to one of Elisabeth's talks. I don't have time to read the book at the moment. It does seem as if Elisabeth is concentrating on a narrow academic area and generalising quite widely. For instance, the views on lying would never be admissible as evidence.

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    3. If there was any generalizing going on, it was all by me :O)
      And there was certainly no suggestions of admissibility on these types of indicators

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  2. Great piece - we should do more of this sort of thing! Blogger was down all night (or maybe it was my internet) ... I've been dying to leave a comment. Was the talk purely on Deception or are you keeping some juicy things to yourself?

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    1. She did read some interesting bits of transcripts, but I can't use the touch screen fast enough to get that down!
      Also there were lab experiments done where they did mean things to students to attempt to elicit confessions or deception: all for a fiver and a biscuit.
      I can remember volunteering to be a psychology project guinea pig for similar incentives in Canada, many years ago! And the experiments were never about what they told you at the beginning

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  3. Very useful, indeed. Thank you. Regarding serendipity and inspiration, according to an interesting article in the New Scientist, our ability to absorb tangential information into our own ideas is at the heart of creativity. This would seem a perfect example. Good luck with the To-do lists.

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    1. I think that is very true: I can think of occasions where something I've heard before but paid scant attention to seems to come up again at just the right time for a light-bulb moment!

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    2. Makes a change from being influenced by TV and cinema ... so many books reflect the unreality of media rather than this sort of real life.

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  4. Very interesting Teri - though lord knows what this says about my Beloved - if I ask him something and he replies quickly I know he hasn't listened to the question - usually he takes at least 5 seconds to reply - he likes to think through what he's saying. It's very disturbing, even after 25 years together I still want to say @well? Come on! Answer...'

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    1. LOL. Though one of the things she also said that these indicators have to be judged in context of the overall interaction. So if that is usual for him then it isn't an indicator of deception :O)

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    2. We should ALL take our time answering questions. Lord knows ...

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  5. Thanks for the post, Teri, but how do we know you're telling the truth? Eh?

    ;-)

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    1. You don't!!
      A totally unrelated comment...she also said sociopaths don't follow the rules, as you might expect

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  6. Really interesting post, Teri! I am now quite convinced that just about everyone I know lies! Hmmm...

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    1. er ... er ... that's ... not ... true ...

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  7. Living in Italy,I can honestly say there are NO rules of conversation. A bunch of Italians would send a police investigation haywire. I love K.Evans comment. My husband is exactly the same complete with me finger-tapping while I wait for an answer. I could get through the dishes and a round of washing by the time he makes up his mind.

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