The truth about
Deception Detection

 Traits are expressed through behavior.

      Past behavior is indicative of future behavior.

 Behavior reflects personality.


There is no one behavioral / body language expression called a tell / cue that will detect deception. There is no such thing as Pinocchio’s nose. What many of the internet gurus try to sell us today as the new find in deception detection, such as touching the nose, the face or ears, rapid eye blinking, looking away when answering a question along with many other non verbal cues including NLP Neuro Linguistic Programming, it is very easy to understand why we are confused and inaccurate when attempting to detect deception.

NLP was invented in the 1970s by Linguist John Grinder and a Psychologist, Richard Bandler. The concept of NLP was since the right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body and the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body than watching the eyes called eye accessing cues will help you to detect deception.

NLP was invented in the 1970s by Linguist John Grinder and a Psychologist, Richard Bandler. The concept of NLP was since the right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body and the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body than watching the eyes called eye accessing cues will help you to detect deception.


 When asking someone a question the eyes would access top right (construct) the person is thinking how to answer your question he/she and their answer is not coming from memory.  Looking top left, (recall)  the person is answering your question from memory and being honest. We could ascertain if the person was being deceptive or truthful based on these eye accessing cues. To this day there is no credible research to back up its claims. For example if a person is rehearsing a lie over and over again for later recall, where do you think this information is being stored? It is being stored in long term memory. In a situation where a person is being asked a question in which they have rehearsed a deceptive answer where do you think their eyes will access? Their eyes will access top left for recall. Take in the fact that some people are what is called opposite orientated looking top right for recall and top left for construct. You can understand why NLP is not a valid proven science for detecting deception. The past president of the NLP Society John LaValle has stated that there is no correlation between eye movement and deception detection.

All of the body language cues that we are detecting is our brain, the limbic system and it’s response to a threatening / stressful event. What will help profilers, law enforcement, interviewers and parents in becoming more accurate in deception detection is not to look for deception per say, but to pay close attention to the discomfort displays tells, that a personality will exhibit during a conversation or interaction. We need to pay close attention to any change from their base line behavior.

Honest people do not have a problem answering questions. Each question asked will carry the same value. There will be very little change in their base line behavior. If the personality is harboring guilty knowledge, there will be a change in their base line behavior. We must pay close attention and remember at what part of the conversation or interaction did this change take place. What question did you ask that caused an increase in discomfort displays / pacifying behaviors. This leakage will manifest itself in clusters. These clusters will be expressed in both the person’s body language and speech pitch change. These tells must be understood and analyzed in the context of the situation you are in.

Research has shown that people are no more than fifty percent accurate in detecting deception. One of the main reasons is people have what is called a built in truthfulness bias.  This makes us less likely to believe others are lying to us. One of the other reasons that deception is difficult to detect is that deceptive people will weave lies within a truthful statement. The most difficult lie to detect is the lie of omission.  What a person is not telling you lie of omission can be just as damaging as when he/she is being outright deceptive. To detect deception with any degree of accuracy we must look for and analyze signs of emotional leakage, discomfort displays that are at variance asynchrony with the picture that is being presented to you. Honest people have synchrony between what is being said and their non verbal body language expressions. We must also understand the many faces of deception, what deception is, and how it can be used against the more trusting of the people in today’s society.

First, what are the stakes involved? We have the following:


                                                      1) Low stake lies

                                                       2) High stake lies

Low stake lies have no gain or loss for the deceiver. These little white lies or pro-social lies have very little consequence attached to them.

The higher the stakes involved, the better your chances will be in detecting deception. Lying causes stress: and this stress will manifest itself in the person’s body language expressions, expressed in pacifying discomfort displays. Research has identified four different types of lies. They are:


L.S. 1) Pro- Social:


Lying to protect someone.
To benefit or to help others.
Called the white lie.

H.S. 2) Self Enchantment:


Lying to make ourselves
seem more important to others.

H.S. 3) Selfish:


Lying to protect self. To
conceal a misdeed. Avoid
embarrassment, punishment,
or disapproval from others.

HS. 4) Anti-social:


Lying to hurt others
intentionally to gain an unfair,
unearned benefit. The Psychopath.


We have four deceptive personality types:

Bad Liars: These personalities are just bad at lying. They are so afraid of getting caught: called detection apprehension that lying is just not rewarding for them. When they do attempt to lie, it is very obvious to everyone.

Natural Liars: These personalities were identified by P. Ekman, Ph.D. They did not lie more often nor were less moral or more comfortable when betraying trust. They just know if they chose to lie they could get away with it. They knew this from childhood.

Practiced Liars: After years of practice the signs of guilt /anxiety wear off. They have been medicated through what is called thinking errors (self deceit / rationalization). They will not show signs of guilt because they will not feel it. After many years of lying their confidence level is high. They have made themselves believe that whatever they are saying, doing or feeling in their minds to be true. For example, the child molester has made him/her self believe that the child wanted it and likes it. He/she is educating the child, rather than molesting the child.

The Psychopath: These personalities are the most dangerous. They do not have the detection apprehension or the fear of getting caught tells/cues that would be detected in most people when being deceptive. The psychopath will deceive without conscience. Deception to the psychopath is considered sport. They deceive for the thrill it gives them. They have replaced detection apprehension with duping delight, a kind of joy and a childlike delight in fooling others. Key characteristics of the psychopathic are glibness, superficial charm, and an extraordinary ability to con and manipulate others.

(Anna C. Salter, Ph.D. 2003)

Deceit models have changed. What was once considered deception indicators such as gaze avoidance: and fidgeting have not been found as reliable indicators of deception. Take gaze avoidance for example. Different cultures nave different eye contact levels. Asian cultures hold eye contact 50-60 % of the time, Caucasians 60-70 % and Blacks 70-90 %. People with Autistic disorders or Social Anxiety find direct eye contact very difficult. Research has found that deceptive people have a tendency to hold eye contact longer than what would be considered normal during an interview, conversation or interrogation.

Fidgeting, some people are balls of energy. They fidget and move around constantly. Fidgeting is a sign of stress and not an indicator of deceit.

What is important is to analyze what has caused the change in the person’s base line behavior. What question or discussion were you having at the time that caused an increase or decrease in Illustrators (talking with ones hands). We need to ask ourselves, what is causing the stress? Why has this person’s base line behavior changed?

A person’s emotional make up must also be taken into consideration so we do not make the mistake of falling into what Dr. Ekman calls the Brokaw Hazard or the Othello Error.


Brokaw Hazard:

For example, Introvert, Extrovert and Ambivert personality types handle stressful or threatening situations much differently from one another. Emotionally controlled personalities, such as the Introvert / Ambivert, are more concerned with how others perceive them.They have a very analytical thinking process, and can be very poor communicators when put under stressful situations. They will spend time thinking about the right words to express themselves. The hesitation in their speech and the anxiety shown in their body language may be misinterpreted as deceit.

The Extrovert personality types are very out going, gregarious and fun loving types of people. They have a rapid thinking process and can think quickly on their feet. Their friendly, out going and expressive body language can confuse you, when they are being deceptive.


Othello Error :

When we go in to an interview or interrogation with an accusatory attitude, we put the person on the defensive. We, in effect, cause the behaviors in that person that we are trying to detect, identify and analyze. We have, in effect, contaminated the experiment.

A base line behavior pattern norm must be identified. To acquire a true base line behavior, you must keep the person you are dealing with in a state of comfort. Any deviation from that person’s normal base line behavior pattern can be analyzed in the context of the situation that you are in.

If you are unsure whether the statement you have been given is truthful or not, wait a few minutes. Then go back and ask him/her to repeat their version of events. Only this time, ask them to repeat the story backwards. Truthful statements come from memory, so this exercise will be easy for them to do. When the story has been created and not being recalled from memory, you will notice hesitations and delays in their speech, called a time buying tactic. They are trying to remember what they have said to you. This put a very heavy load on their cognitive thinking process. At this time you will notice a high level of stress in their body language. This stress will manifest itself in pacifying behaviors. Motions, such as but not limited to; massaging the neck, face and forehead and rubbing the earlobe and mouth, will increase dramatically to relieve the stress.

Three diagnostic tools used in deception detection are Handwriting Analysis, Statement Analysis and Non verbal communication (body language).


                                                       Handwriting Analysis


Handwriting is brain writing. It is the frame of mind the person was in at the time the document was penned. To be accurate, fair and professional, we need many samples of handwriting written over a period of time. Secondly, we must determine the circumstances under which the document was penned.

A sample of handwriting penned on your lap in a moving car, bus or train will have distortions due to the vibrations caused by an unstable writing surface. These distortions could contaminate the traits that we must detect, analyze and identify in the handwriting samples, giving the examiner a false read.

The American discipline of handwriting analysis is based on trait theory and the psychology behind the one hundred sixteen to one hundred twenty established and researched traits. These traits have been found to be eighty five to eighty seven percent accurate with a thirteen to fifteen percent margin for error. When Self and willful deceit have been detected and identified in a person’s handwriting, Profiler's know the personality is in a deceitful frame of mind. It does not tell us what the person is being deceitful about. Many people rationalize thinking errors a stress /trauma they are enduring in their personal or professional lives. This does not make the personality untrustworthy. The deception detected in their handwriting may be a face saving tactic. To make matters worse if the person has made themselves believe in what they are saying to be true, thinking errors, the traits of self and willful deceit will not manifest itself in the person’s handwriting.

When self and willful deceit are detected in a person’s handwriting, this psychological escape trait will be found in the ovals:




When self and willful deceit has been detected in a person’s handwriting we must analyze the personality as a whole. Profiler's must detect, identify and analyze all of the traits found in the handwriting Gastalt Analysis to ascertain why this psychological escape trait is there and what is causing the problem. There are many underlying reasons why the personality has entered into a deceitful frame of mind. When self and willful deceit has been detected, it is important to determine how consistent the trait is throughout all of the handwriting samples that have been provided to you.

Pronounced deceit will normally have these additional reinforcing traits:

Persistence, sensuality, self–interest, acquisitiveness, lack of generosity, weak will power, tenacity, resentment, overactive imagination, suppression's, repressions, independence, jealousy, diplomacy, sensitivity to criticism, vanity, domineering, confusion of interest, submissive/yielding and a tendency to underestimate self.

All reinforcing traits must be evaluated on a scale of one through ten. One being the lowest point of measurement. Ten being the highest point of measurement.

It is our responsibility as profiler's to get to the root of the problem, investigate and understand the reason why this psychological escape trait is there. It is not enough to say that this writer is deceitful. To do so, would be very unfair, unprofessional and unjust.

The Library of Congress has categorized Handwriting Analysis as a subtopic of psychology, and psychology as an independent discipline, rather than as a subtopic of social science.



                                                      Nonverbal Communication

Body language / non verbal communication used in deception detection can be a very accurate diagnostic tool when you understand how the human brain deals with a stressful or threatening situation. In 1952, a scientist named Paul MacLean began to speak of the human brain as a triune brain consisting of three brains working together as a command and control center. They are:


Reptilian (stem) brain
Mammalian (limbic) brain
Neo Cortex (human) brain

The "limbic" mammalian brain plays the largest role in the expression of nonverbal behavior. This part of the brain acts like a radar system that is on seven days a week. When the limbic brain experiences a positive, negative or threatening situation it leaks this information in the form of body language tells/cues congruent with those feelings, positive & negative. These body language cues are expressed instantaneously and without thought. These expressions manifest physically in our faces, torso, arms, hands, feet and legs.

The brain’s response to any threatening situation takes three forms, the freeze, flight, fight response. When one response is found to be inadequate, the Limbic will move quickly to the next response, until the system feels the threat has passed. The body language cues that follow will tell us which response the Limbic system has chosen to defend itself, and has returned the body back into a safe and secure frame of mind. The nonverbal behaviors that follow will help us to understand a person’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions. The limbic brain is our true brain and is the most accurate when detecting body language cues.

The neo-cortex or human brain is our thinking, creative brain. The neo-cortex  is analytical. It thinks before it acts or speaks. It lies: and it lies often. Example: Your slightly over weight friend asks you, “How do you like my new bright yellow dress?"  You answer, “Gee Look’s great on you.”  In reality, you wanted to say something very different. Your analytical brain came up with a quick Pro- Social white lie, so you do not hurt your friend’s feelings. The micro eye blocking expression flashed on your face, just before you opened you
r mouth expressing your true feelings of;  "Oh my God!"

True emotions are always expressed in body language cues before words and actions. ( Navarro & Scahafer, 2003,22-24 )

In the 1800’s Darwin stated that there were six emotions that were universal to all cultures. They are:


 In 1980 Dr. Paul Ekman, Ph.D added,


These emotions are expressed in all humans from the day they are born. Dr. Ekman studied the forty facial muscles and their movement when emotions were felt and expressed. He stated humans can express over ten thousand (10,000) different expressions. Most we will never see. In a typical conversation we will see less than one hundred (100). Only a third will be relevant to emotion. These expressions are flashed in 1/25 of a second called, a micro expression. These expressions will reveal themselves prior to a more contrived expression.  When a micro expression is detected, it does not tell you what the person is being deceptive about.
It only tells that their facial expressions, words and body language non verbal tells/cues lack Synchrony.

Dr. Ekman’s work in developing F.A.C.S., Facial- Action- Coding System, is a highly accurate diagnostic tool in helping profiler's and law enforcement personnel in detecting micro expressions in a personality when they are put or are in a stressful situation. These emotions or expressions should not be in variance with the picture being presented to you, or before the fake emotion, the mask the personality wants you to believe they are feeling, is shown. All cues must be taken in the context of the situation you are in.

The next time someone says to you that nonverbal behavior does not have meaning or is not reliable, the U.S. Supreme Court decision (Terry v. Ohio, 1968, 392 U.S. 1) acknowledged that nonverbal behaviors presage criminality if those behaviors are observed and decoded properly. This landmark decision was based on the quick thinking of a thirty nine year old Detective, Martin McFadden. In 1963, he watched the nonverbal behavior of two men who he believed were about to rob a store. When Officer McFadden moved in and patted the two men down he found a concealed hand gun. (Terry v. Ohio, 1968, 392 U.S. 1) provided a clear demonstration of the relationship between our thoughts, intentions, and nonverbal behaviors. (Navarro & Scahafer, 2003, 22-24)



                                          Statement Analysis

Statement Analysis is based on word definitions, the rules of grammar and we are not interpreting what a person is saying. We are listining to what the person is saying.
The Germans generally are credited with the advancement of statement analysis for investigative purposes. German Psychologists developed a system to assess the credibility of statements made by children in child abuse cases called Criteria Based Content Analysis. The technique became mandated in German courts in 1954 for cases involving disputed allegations of child sexual abuse. (Susan H. Adams M.A.)

Truthful statements differ from fabricated statements in content, quality, breath and depth. Parts of speech form the foundation of statement analysis. All truthful statements come from memory. There is a marked difference between a statement written or spoken that a person is creating as he/she goes along, and a statement that comes from memory.

Statement Analysis experts have noted that truthful people give statements written or verbal using the pronoun “I” which is first person singular. When the pronoun “I” is missing from a statement, this is an indication the person is not totally committed to the facts in the statement.
Verb tenses are also important and should be given close scrutiny. When a person is recalling a past event all verbs should be in the past tense. A good rule of thumb to remember is  first person singular past tense.

To ascertain if the statement is being created or a true remembered event, investigators examine the individual parts of speech, particularly but not limited to:


Nouns, pronouns, verb tenses, specific words, unique words, unusual words, untruthful words, words or phases that span time, lack of memory,
passive voice, misplaced emotions, harsh words, punctuation, out of order statements, BDA ratios (before, during, after, the incident in question)

People do not like to lie, Lying causes stress. To avoid this stress people will say or write a statement that sounds truthful, but in reality they are being quite deceptive. For example:

Your spouse asks the question,

“Have you been cheating on me or did you cheat on me with so and so?”

He / She answers,

“I could never do such a thing."

Sounds like an honest denial; but the words could not or would not is not the same as saying “I didn’t cheat on you”.

In the Susan Smith case, her own words betrayed her when she was giving her crying T.V. interview, pleading to have her two children returned to her. She stated, “my children needed me.”

She should have said "my children need me”. She slipped and used the verb "needed" in the past tense, because she knew her children were already dead.

In Statement Analysis, we are taught every word has a meaning; and people mean exactly what they say. We do not interpret what a person is saying to us; but we listen to what they are telling us. (Mark McClish, 2007)

If you have any questions on deception detection, please feel free to contact me, I will be more than happy to talk with you. Statement Analysis is a registered Trade Mark of Mark McClish.


Anthony Iantosca, BCFE

Mr. Iantosca, BCFE is Co-Chairman of the International Academy of Forensic Examiners and Investigators and Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Examiners membership number 107. A Board Certified Forensic Examiner specializing in Forensic Behavioral Profiling Through Written Communication, Certified Forensic Handwriting/Document Examiner. Forensic Statement Linguistic Analysis, Nonverbal Communication.





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